Robocalls may be the bane of any decent person. Industry players and regulators have committed to stopping and punishing those evildoers. Indeed, the FCC has been going after them and just proposed a record $225 million fine against two telemarketers who spoofed about 1 billion robocalls over the course of four-and-a-half months in 2019. There's also a lawsuit led by seven state attorneys general that could cause some more damage. But will these dastardly dialers end up paying anywhere close to these numbers? The short answer is probably not.
In a release yesterday, the commission outlined the case against Jakob A. Mears and John C. Spiller who ran Texas-based LLCs under the names of JSquared Telecom and Rising Eagle. The men told the USTelecom Industry Tracebook Group, a consortium of telcos investigating robocall attacks, that they made calls to millions of lines each day flogging health insurance plans from providers such as Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, and UnitedHealth, but actually sold most of its plans from Health Advisors of America, a company sued by the Missouri attorney general for telemarketing violations.
The FCC's proposed amount of $225 million is the largest in the agency's history, but critics — including Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel — question whether it can enforce that claim without the legal heft of the Justice Department.
"Over the last several years the FCC has levied hundreds of millions in
fines against robocallers just like the folks we have here today," Rosenworcel said in a statement. " In fact, it was last year that The Wall Street Journal did the math and found that we had collected no more than $6,790 on hundreds of millions in fines."
Meanwhile, Mears and Spiller are also up against a lawsuit headed by the attorneys general for Arkansas, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas. The seven states are looking for anywhere from $500 to $25,000 per infraction of their states' laws. Of course, judges exercise plenty of discretion when determining a sentence. It also doesn't take much of a fine to clean any person who can make millions of calls with a small budget out of house and home.
Service providers have been working rather slowly to implement STIR/SHAKEN authentication across their telephony systems to spoofed phone numbers from completing calls in the first place. Scammers will keep finding ways to reach their targets, though, so the long arm of the law still actually has to function to protect people.