Getty Images | Juj Winn
The Federal Communications Commission today proposed a $ 225 million fine for health insurance telemarketers who "performed approximately 1 billion fake robocalls nationwide in the first four and a half months of 2019". However, the FCC's track record of collecting the proposed fines is so poor that it is unlikely that the fine will ever be close to the proposed amount.
Rising Eagle, a Texas-based health insurance telemarketer, made 1 billion calls "on behalf of customers who sell short-term, limited-time health plans," the FCC said. This is how the FCC described the robocalls:
The Robocalls falsely claimed to offer health insurance plans from well-known health insurance companies such as Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna and UnitedHealth Group. For example, one call says, "Are you looking for affordable health insurance with benefits from a company you know? All policies such as Cigna, Blue Cross, Aetna and United have been reduced just a short call away. Press 3 to Connect to a licensed agent, or press 7 to be added to the Do Not Call list. "When you press 3, consumers are directed to a non-affiliate call center where call center representatives then attempted to contact the consumer to persuade you to purchase an insurance product sold by a Rising Eagle customer. Rising Eagle's largest customer, Health Advisors of America, was sued by the Missouri Attorney General in February 2019 for violations of telemarketing.
The proposed $ 225 million fine is for "apparent violations by John C. Spiller and Jakob A. Mears using company names such as Rising Eagle and JSquared Telecom," the FCC said. It is a proposed fine because the FCC process works this way: the Commission issues an apparent liability for the loss, including allegations, and the suspected robocaller is given the opportunity to respond and provide evidence. The process may end in an agreement or a fine that cannot exceed the proposed $ 225 million. The $ 225 million would be the FCC's largest fine to date, but the Commission has a disappointing track record in imposing these proposed penalties.
"In recent years, the FCC has fined Robocaller hundreds of millions, just like the people we have here today, so far the collections of these striking fines have brought next to nothing," said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel Two of them Democrats in the Republican Majority Commission said in a statement sent to reporters today. "In fact, the Wall Street Journal did the math last year and found we didn't collect more than $ 6,790 in hundreds of millions of dollars in fines. Why? Well, one reason the FCC is approaching the Department of Justice is collecting The agency's fines against Robocaller. We need them to help, so if they don't interfere – like here – that's not a good sign. "
According to the FCC press release, "Spiller admitted to the USTelecom Industry Traceback Group that he knowingly named consumers on the" do not call "list because he believed it was more profitable to target these consumers. He also admitted that he made millions of calls per day and that he used fake numbers. "
The FCC's Rising Eagle investigation found that its calls were "forged to deceive consumers, target millions of unanswered calls and were received on many mobile phones without consumer approval". The Rising Eagle "fraud also caused the companies whose caller IDs were falsified to be overwhelmed by angry calls back from injured consumers. At least one company was hit by several lawsuits for falsifying its number and another company was so overwhelmed by calls that his telephone network became unusable. "
Spoofing the caller ID allows callers to hide their identity by making calls from other numbers. The FCC requires Congress to instruct network operators to provide the STIR / SHAKEN framework, which uses digital certificates to verify the accuracy of the caller ID. The FCC has also pressured US airlines to stop suspicious international traffic, but the Robocall problem is so big that it may never be fully resolved.