The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday imposed an $82 million fine against a telemarketer who made more than 21 million unsolicited calls to consumers to try to sell health insurance and generate leads.
Over a three-month period beginning in late 2016, Philip Roesel and his companies made more than 200,000 calls every day, the FCC said, using a technique known as spoofing in which a person’s caller ID displays a number that is different from the one the caller is using.
“By spoofing his caller ID information, Mr. Roesel made it difficult for consumers to register complaints and for law enforcement entities to track and stop the illegal calls,” the FCC said in a statement. Such conduct, the agency said, causes significant harm to consumers.
The FCC did not say how much money Roesel generated from his robo-calling scheme, but Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement that “it’s impossible to believe that he would have generated the same volume of leads (and potential commissions) had he not made over 21 million unlawfully spoofed robo-calls.”
Roesel, who is based in North Carolina, did not immediately respond to requests for comment made through his business Wilmington Insurance Quotes. He has claimed that the FCC did not prove that he intended to harm consumers and that any value he received from the calls was not obtained wrongfully, according to the FCC. The agency concluded that “the evidence did not support these claims.”
In the statement announcing the fine, Pai noted that in nearly half of the FCC’s meetings in which he has served as chairman, the agency has voted to take action against unlawful robo-calls. Pai said he has made combating illegal robo-calls the FCC’s top consumer protection priority. Some types of prerecorded phone messages to households and individuals are permitted, such as informational calls from schools and pharmacies. But prerecorded sales calls are illegal unless a business has a consumer’s permission.
Despite the heightened enforcement, however, the number of scam calls is expected to rise sharply. Almost half of all cellphone calls next year will come from scammers, according to First Orion, a company that provides phone companies and their customers caller ID and call blocking tools. Federal officials attribute the spike in robo-calls to automatic dialers, which can place a massive number of phone calls quickly and at a low cost.
Government regulators have allowed phone carriers to block calls that may be illegal to help prevent unwanted telemarketing. Phone carriers are also developing a system to authenticate calls to crack down on spoofing.