It was only last week that a study projected that almost half of your incoming phone calls next year will be from scammers and spammers. Almost twice as much as this year, and up astronomically from 3.7 percent last year.

People asked what the government could possibly do about it. Now, just a few days later, there's a heck of an answer.

The Federal Communications Commission this week came down hard on two small companies--actually a small business and an individual person who was allegedly hiding behind several companies----moving forward on fines totaling $119.5 million after determining they'd made more than 23 million illegal robocall sales calls to U.S. phone numbers. 

Specifically, the FCC says that telemarketer Philip Roesel made a total of 21 million spoofed robocalls, meaning that he disguised the caller ID information to make it seem as they were coming from someone else, as part of a scheme to sell health insurance.

Separately, the FCC charges that an Arizona company called Affordable Enterprises made more than 2.3 million "maliciously-spoofed telemarketing calls" during a 14-month period starting in 2016. Their goal? To sell "home improvement and remodeling services," according to a press release.

Roesel got hit with $82 million in total fines; Affordable Enterprises is potentially on the hook for $37.5 million.

"Roesel was responsible for more than 200,000 spoofed robocalls a day--21.5 million altogether, over a three-month period from late 2016 through early 2017," FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement.

As for Affordable, because it allegedly spoofed caller ID information in many cases to display totally unrelated, real customers' phone numbers, those victims started getting angry phone calls "back" from some of the millions of people who Affordable called.

"One of them claimed to have received more than five calls a day from people irate that they were receiving unwanted calls from her number," Pai said. "[N]o wonder ... Affordable had made more than 48,349 calls alone using her phone number during the period that it was assigned to this consumer. This conduct is outrageous and unacceptable."

The enforcement has been in the works for a while. The fine against Roesel was originally proposed last year but confirmed this week, while the one against Affordable Enterprises is new.

But the actual enforcement comes as robocalls, spam phone calls, and pure scam attempts are drastically on the rise.

The 2018 Scam Call Trends and Projections Report from First Orion last week suggested that spoofed caller ID and aggressive phishing attempts had soared in the last year.

Perhaps most egregious, "scam callers" are targeting areas with lots of immigrants who speak English as a second language, and claiming to be government officials who demand payment "to clear up some kind of legal issue," according to the report.

If you've gotten a number of spam calls from people speaking a language other than English, especially Chinese, chances are your phone number is on a list of numbers suspected to belong to immigrants who might be unfamiliar with the U.S. legal system.

All of which leads to two things at the FCC: a track record in which literally half of what they spend their time doing involves trying to combat robocalls and other telemarketing scams--and this kind of enforcement action involving giant fines against the people they catch.

Who knows, maybe that will make a dent in the robocall problem. And hey, if not, at least we can all enjoy a little schadenfreude at the expense of the spammy telemarketers.

Published on: Sep 28, 2018
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