If you've ever answered the phone and been annoyed to hear a pre-recorded voice on the other end, you may find it especially satisfying that the Federal Communications Commission has identified what appears to be the single worst perpetrator of robocalls. Adrian Abramovich, 47, of Miami is accused of placing 97 million robocalls in the last three months of 2016 alone. He's been doing this for years, so his total of annoying robocalls likely stretches into the billions. The FCC has proposed a fine of $120 million as punishment.

The calls begin with a pre-recorded message pretending to be from Marriott, Expedia, or TripAdvisor. They offer an exclusive vacation deal you can learn about if you press 1. But if you do press 1, your call is routed to a call center in Mexico operated by one of several travel companies there that will try to sell you vacation packages or timeshares. Needless to say, none of this has anything to do with Marriott, Expedia, or TripAdvisor.

TripAdvisor (after getting some bitterly worded complaints from people on the Do Not Call registry) investigated the fraud on its own, according to the FCC's filing. According to the FCC: "TripAdvisor spoke with an owner of one of the Mexican call centers selling vacation packages who explained Abramovich's business model. Various Mexican call centers contracted with Abramovich to reach out to American consumers via phone campaigns and direct consumers who 'pressed 1' to their call agents. This traffic provided by Abramovich could be adjusted up or down based on the call center's capacity and needs. The call centers paid Abramovich daily for various amounts of traffic."

Misrepresenting yourself as someone you're not is illegal, needless to say. But so are many other things that telemarketers routinely do. It's illegal to call--or text--a mobile phone for anything other than emergency purposes without the owner's prior consent. It's illegal to call a land line on the Do Not Call registry for marketing purposes without prior consent. (Contrary to what some telemarketers may tell you, the fact that you've done business with a company in the past does not constitute prior consent.) It's also illegal for telemarketers to call numbers used in response to emergencies, which Abramovich did. Finally, it's illegal to "neighbor spoof" a call, making it appear to come from a local number and Abramovich did that too. In addition to the proposed fine, the FCC warned Abramovich that could be fined up to $19,246 per call for any further violations of these laws.

Abramovich now has 30 days to respond to the FCC about its proposed fine. Available information about Abramovich seems to be scarce, but the FCC did note that Abramovich has operated at least 12 companies over the years, often for only a year at a time. He was operating as Marketing Leaders, Inc. when he made the calls he's being fined for. Since September 2015, he's been operating as Emerald Media, which is still active today.

Buzzfile, which aggregates public records about companies, estimates Emerald Media made about $23,000 per year during its first two years of operation. In view of his record fine, let's hope Abramovich has some other source of funds.

Published on: Jun 23, 2017
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