The Federal Trade Commission and 10 state attorneys general have taken action against a Florida-based cruise line company and seven other companies that assisted a massive telemarketing campaign resulting in billions of robocalls. The FTC and state partners allege that that the companies illegally sold cruise vacations using political survey robocalls.
Although the FTC’s do-not-call and robocall rules do not prohibit political survey robocalls, the defendants’ robocalls violated federal law because they incorporated a sales pitch for a cruise to the Bahamas. The robocalls generated millions of dollars for the cruise line.
“Marketers who know the ropes understand you can’t steer clear of the do not call rules by tacking a political or survey call onto a sales pitch,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. She added: “Anyone who assists in making illegal calls is also on the hook.”
According to the joint complaint filed by the FTC and the states, the defendants’ robocall campaign ran from October 2011 through July 2012 and averaged approximately 12 to 15 million illegal sales calls a day. Consumers who answered these calls typically heard a pre-recorded message supposedly from “John from Political Opinions of America,” who told them they had been “carefully selected” to participate in a 30-second research survey, after which they could “press one” to receive a two-day cruise to the Bahamas.
Consumers who completed the survey and pressed one for their cruise were connected to a live telemarketer working on behalf of Caribbean Cruise Line, Inc. (CCL), to market its cruise vacations. In addition to the cruise, these telemarketers also sold pre-boarding hotels, cruise excursions, enhanced accommodations, and other travel packages.
The complaint charges CCL with violating the agency’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) by using robocalls to sell cruise vacations. The complaint also alleges that two other companies, Linked Service Solutions, LLC and Economic Strategy LLC, violated the TSR by placing the robocalls that generated leads for CCL.
The complaint also charges a group of five interrelated companies, and their owner, Fred Accuardi, with assisting and facilitating the illegal cruise calls. The complaint alleges that these defendants provided robocallers with hundreds of telephone numbers to use when making calls, made it possible for robocallers to choose and change the names that would appear on consumers’ caller ID devices, and hid the robocallers’ identities from authorities.
In addition, the Accuardi defendants helped fund the robocallers by sharing fees generated by accessing caller ID names. The five companies charged with assisting and facilitating the robocall violations are: Telephone Management Corporation, T M Caller ID, LLC, Pacific Telecom Communications Group, International Telephone Corporation and International Telephone, LLC.
The FTC was joined in this action by the attorneys general of Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and Washington and appreciates their assistance in bringing this case.
The following defendants have agreed to court orders settling the charges against them: CCL; Linked Service Solutions, LLC and its owners, Scott Broomfield and Jason Birkett (LSS); Economic Strategy LLC, and its owner, Jacob deJongh; and Steve Hamilton.
The proposed settlement orders bar CCL and the other settling defendants from engaging in abusive telemarketing practices, including calling consumers whose phone numbers are on the DNC Registry, calling anyone that has previously said they don’t want to be called again, failing to transmit accurate caller ID information, and placing illegal robocalls. The orders also require CCL to monitor its lead generators on an ongoing basis and Hamilton to terminate any clients placing telephone calls that would violate the TSR.
The proposed settlement orders also impose: 1) a civil penalty of $7.73 million against CCL, which will be partially suspended after CCL pays $500,000; 2) a partially suspended civil penalty of $5 million against LSS and its owners, upon payment of $25,000; 3) a partially suspended civil penalty of $295,000 against Economic Strategy and its owner, upon the payment of $2,000; and 4) a partially suspended civil penalty of $750,000 against Steve Hamilton, one of the owners of Pacific Telecom Communication Group, upon payment of $2,000. The penalties are partially suspended based on the defendants’ inability to pay.
Litigation continues against Fred Accuardi and the five companies charged with assisting and facilitating the illegal conduct alleged in the complaint.
Information for Consumers
The FTC has a range of information for consumers who would like to learn more about the Do Not Call Registry, robocalls, and travel fraud in general. Please see the travel scams feature page and Limiting Unwanted Calls & Emails.
The Commission vote approving the complaint and each of the four proposed stipulated final orders was 5-0. They were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. Stipulated orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.
Mitchell J. Katz
Office of Public Affairs