In­surance tele­mar­keters fined $225M for a bil­lion robo­calls

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - BUSINESS - BY TALI AR­BEL

The U.S. com­mu­ni­ca­tions reg­u­la­tor on Tues­day pro­posed a $225 mil­lion fine, its largest ever, against two health in­surance tele­mar­keters for spam­ming peo­ple with 1 bil­lion robo­calls us­ing fake phone num­bers.

The Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion said John Spiller and Jakob Mears made the calls through two busi­nesses.

State at­tor­neys gen­eral of Arkansas, In­di­ana, Michi­gan, Mis­souri, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas also sued the two men and their com­pa­nies, Ris­ing Ea­gle and JSquared Tele­com, in fed­eral court in Texas, where both men live, for vi­o­lat­ing the fed­eral law gov­ern­ing tele­mar­ket­ing, the Tele­phone Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act.

The FCC said the robo­calls of­fered plans from ma­jor in­sur­ers like Aetna and Unit­ed­Health with an au­to­mated mes­sage. If con­sumers pressed a but­ton for more in­for­ma­tion, how­ever, they were trans­ferred to a call cen­ter that sold plans not con­nected to those com­pa­nies.

Over more than four months in early 2019, the FCC said, these tele­mar­keters faked the num­ber their calls dis­played in caller ID with in­tent to de­ceive con­sumers; pur­pose­fully called peo­ple who are on the Do Not Call list; and called peo­ple’s mo­bile phones with­out get­ting per­mis­sion first.

Con­sumers weren’t the only ones both­ered. The tele­mar­keters faked their calls to make them ap­pear they came from other com­pa­nies, which then re­ceived an­gry calls and were named in law­suits from con­sumers. The FCC didn’t name these com­pa­nies, but said one got so many calls that its phone net­work “be­came un­us­able.”

The fine is not a fi­nal de­ci­sion. Spiller and Mears will have a chance to re­spond.

As robo­calls be­came a press­ing is­sue for con­sumers, both as an an­noy­ance and as a ve­hi­cle for fraud, the FCC has pushed car­ri­ers to do more to stop them. A new law beefs up en­force­ment and man­dates the phone in­dus­try not charge for call­block­ing tools and put in place a sys­tem de­signed to weed out “spoofed” calls made us­ing fake num­bers.

Reached by phone at the num­ber listed for JSquared, Spiller de­clined to com­ment, say­ing nei­ther he nor Mears would speak be­fore talk­ing to an at­tor­ney.

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