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The FCC is taking action against robocalls with a record $ 225 million fine

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An incoming call is flagged as “likely fraud” on a T-Mobile phone

T-Mobile

The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday sentenced two Texas-based telemarketers to a record $ 225 million fine for making automated sales calls or robocalls in 2019.

The marketers under the company names Rising Eagle and JSquared Telecom used robocalls to falsely sell short-term health insurance plans. According to the FCC, they made roughly a billion robocalls.

The fine, originally proposed last summer, is part of the expanded automated sales pitch effort that the FCC announced on Wednesday. It is the highest fine in the Commission’s history.

Robocalls are a daily nuisance for many Americans and have increased in number in recent years. Some estimates show billions are being made every month. According to Robokiller, an anti-spam calling app, the number of spam calls received in the US increased 26% over the past year.

The FCC recommends that people do not answer calls from unknown numbers because of the problem. iPhones even have a built-in feature that allows them to be sent to voicemail. Often times, the scammers pretend to be affiliated with a legitimate company or organization such as IRS, Apple, or Amazon.

Efforts to control the problem have been hampered by older technologies in the phone system that allow scammers to forge local phone numbers and by a business model that requires only a very small number of victims to be scammed for the robocaller to make money.

The FCC also announced on Wednesday that it has established a Robocall Response Team of 51 FCC staff to coordinate anti-robocall efforts. The FCC is liaising with the FTC, DOJ and attorneys general to address the issue.

The FCC has sent cease and desist letters to companies that have violated FCC rules and are suspected of participating in robocalls. Scams associated with these companies include scam calls, calls pretending to be Apple, fake COVID hardening programs, and fictitious refunds from Amazon, according to the FCC.

“In addition, today’s cease and desist statements should serve as a warning sign to other companies who believe the FCC has ignored this issue. We certainly don’t have it and are coming for you,” said Jessica Rosenworcel, acting chairman of the FCC in a statement.

The FCC has fined telemarketers over $ 450 million in recent years.

Legislators from both parties have also tried to control the robocall plague. In December 2019, Congress passed the TRACED Act, which increases the potential fines for a single robocall to $ 10,000. In addition, large carriers need to update their systems to make it more difficult to falsely falsify numbers that appear in the caller ID.

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Katherine Clark