Companies Use Political Surveys to Make Billions of Robocalls Selling Cruise Vacations

Companies Use Political Surveys to Make Billions of Robocalls Selling Cruise Vacations
Image: Pixabay
March 4, 2015

A Florida-based cruise line company is charged with using robocalls for political surveys to sell vacations.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and nine other state attorneys general have taken action against eight companies that assisted in a massive telemarking campaign resulting in billions of illegal robocalls.

While the federal do not call and robocall rules do not prohibit political survey robocalls, the companies violated the law by using political surveys as a way to sell vacations to the Bahamas. The robocalls generated millions of dollars for the cruise line.

Between October 2011 and July 2012, the robocall campaign averaged between 12 million and 15 million illegal sales calls each day. Consumers who answered these calls typically heard a pre-recorded message from Political Opinions of America who told them they had been carefully selected to participate in a 30-second research survey, after which they could press one to receive a two-day cruise to the Bahamas.

Consumers who completed the survey and pressed one for their cruise were connected to a live telemarketer working on behalf of Caribbean Cruise Line, Inc. (CCL) to market its cruise vacations. In addition to the cruise, these telemarketers also sold pre-boarding hotels, cruise excursions, enhanced accommodations, and other travel packages.

The complaint charges CCL with violating the FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) by using robocalls to sell cruise vacations. The complaint also alleges that two other companies, Linked Service Solutions, LLC and Economic Strategy LLC, violated the TSR by placing the robocalls that generated leads for CCL.

The complaint also charges a group of five interrelated companies, and their owner, Fred Accuardi, with assisting in facilitating the illegal cruise calls. The complaint alleges that these defendants provided robocallers with hundreds of telephone numbers to use when making calls, made it possible for robocallers to choose and change the names that would appear on consumers' caller ID devices, and hid the robocallers' identities from authorities.

In addition, the Accuardi defendants helped fund the robocallers by sharing fees generated by accessing caller ID names. The five companies charged with assisting and facilitating the robocall violations are: Telephone Management Corporation, T M Caller ID, LLC, Pacific Telecom Communications Group, International Telephone Corporation and International Telephone, LLC.

The FTC was joined in this action by the attorneys general of Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and Washington.

Some Defendants Agree to Settle

The following defendants have agreed to court orders settling the charges against them:CCL;Linked Service Solutions, LLC and its owners, Scott Broomfield and Jason Birkett (LSS);Economic Strategy LLC, and its owner, Jacob deJongh; and Steve Hamilton.

The proposed settlement orders bar CCL and the other settling defendants from engaging in abusive telemarketing practices, including calling consumers whose phone numbers are on the National Do Not Call Registry, calling anyone that has previously said they don't want to be called again, failing to transmit accurate caller ID information, and placing illegal robocalls. The orders also require CCL to monitor its lead generators on an ongoing basis and Hamilton to terminate any clients placing telephone calls that would violate the TSR.

The proposed settlement orders also impose: 1) a civil penalty of $7.73 million against CCL, which will be partially suspended after CCL pays $500,000; 2) a partially suspended civil penalty of $5 million against LSS and its owners, upon payment of $25,000; 3) a partially suspended civil penalty of $295,000 against Economic Strategy and its owner, upon the payment of $2,000; and 4) a partially suspended civil penalty of $750,000 against Steve Hamilton, one of the owners of Pacific Telecom Communication Group, upon payment of $2,000. The penalties are partially suspended based on the defendants' inability to pay.

Litigation continues against Accuardi and the five companies charged with assisting and facilitating the illegal conduct alleged in the complaint.