Massive 'Neighbor Spoofing' Robocall Operation Fined Record $120 Million for Illegal Calls
96 million spoofed robocalls were made to trick unsuspecting consumers into answering and listening to advertising messages
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has fined a robocaller $120 million for malicious spoofing that was part of a massive robocalling operation aimed at selling timeshares and other travel packages.
Almost 100 Million Spoofed Robocalls
According to the FCC, Adrian Abramovich's operation made almost 100 million spoofed robocalls over three months. The Truth in Caller ID Act prohibits callers from deliberately falsifying caller ID information with the intent to harm or defraud consumers or unlawfully obtain something of value.
The FCC proposed this fine in the summer of 2017. In response to the proposed fine, Mr. Abramovich claimed that he had no intent to cause harm, and that the proposed forfeiture amount was unconstitutional. The FCC determined that the evidence did not support these claims and is imposing the $120 fine. This is the largest forfeiture ever imposed by the agency.
The goal? Trick Consumers into Answering
The FCC says that Mr. Abramovich, or companies he controlled, spoofed 96 million robocalls in order to trick unsuspecting consumers into answering and listening to his advertising messages. To increase the likelihood that consumers would answer his calls, Mr. Abramovich's operation made calls that appeared to be local—a practice known as "neighbor spoofing."
The calls appeared to come from well-known travel or hospitality companies such as Marriott, Expedia, Hilton, and TripAdvisor, and prompted consumers to "Press 1" to hear about "exclusive" vacation deals. Those who did were transferred to foreign call centers where live operators attempted to sell vacation packages—often involving timeshares—at destinations unrelated to the named travel or hospitality companies.
Spoofing Complaints Abound
The FCC says that it received numerous consumer complaints about these calls. In addition, the agency heard from companies such as TripAdvisor, which received complaints from consumers who believed the robocalls had come from the company. Medical paging provider Spōk also complained after its network was disrupted by these calls, thus interfering with hospital and physician communications. Both companies actively helped with the investigation.
Consumer complaints about neighbor spoofing have more than doubled in 2018. The FCC recently warned consumers of this deceptive practice, providing tips to help consumers.