The “ringleader” of a years-long telemarketing scheme must pay at least $65,000 — and possibly up to $2.2 million — after settling with the Federal Trade Commission in a massive lawsuit.
The consumer protection agency said Thursday that Justin Ramsey, who was responsible for placing millions of unsolicited telemarketing calls to people on the national do-not-call list, will have to pay the full $2.2 million penalty if he and his company are found to have lied about their finances.
Calling someone whose number is on the national do-not-call registry is illegal for telemarketers unless the recipient has provided his or her explicit, written permission or they have an existing business relationship with the caller.
But as far back as 2012, according to the FTC's lawsuit, Ramsey began collecting phone numbers from websites such as yellowpages.com and 411.com and began calling them in an attempt to sell home security systems.
The number of calls grew to an enormous scale. In a single week in 2012, Ramsey allegedly placed 1.3 million prerecorded calls, 80 percent of which affected people who were already on the do-not-call list. The range of products Ramsey tried to sell gradually expanded to include “auto warranties, solar products, debt relief services, and vacation and travel packages,” according to the complaint.
Even after the states of Indiana and Mississippi sued to stop the calls, Ramsey continued. In one case he threw out a document served to him by the Mississippi attorney general's office without reading it, according to the FTC complaint. In an email obtained by the FTC, Ramsey complained about the do-not-call list to a business partner.
The complaint names two other people as defendants: Brian Offner and Christopher Herghelegiu, who were executives of two companies also named in the suit. Both men settled separately with the FTC.
More than 2.4 billion robo-calls are placed every month, according to the Federal Communications Commission, which has also taken action to stem the practice. Some are legitimate calls by businesses trying to serve their customers. But many other robo-calls — such as the kind Ramsey made — are illegal. Unsolicited automated messages account for the largest source of consumer complaints to the FCC.
Phone companies have asked the government for greater leeway to block problematic calls before they ever reach consumers. In addition to selling services Americans do not want, robo-calls are known to have misled innocent people into scams or fraudulent schemes that impose costs on millions of consumers. Many robo-calls originate from overseas, or deliberately mask their location using a technique known as “spoofing.”
The settlement now goes to a judge for final approval.