back to article FCC sets a record breaking $120m fine for rude robocalls

The FCC has upheld a $120m fine levied against a man accused of making 96 million illegal robocalls. The commission on Thursday announced it would indeed seek to collect the massive fine it had first proposed against Adrian Abramovich in 2017. Abramovich, a Miami-based travel marketer it said was behind tens of millions of …

  1. IceC0ld Bronze badge

    $120 million fine

    fine has been set, but not paid as yet

    should I hold my breath .............................................

    1. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: $120 million fine

      fine has been set, but not paid as yet

      FCC needs to hire Hells Angels to collect the debt or Adrian can just move overseas.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: $120 million fine

      "fine has been set, but not paid as yet"

      How long in jail in the event of a default?

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: $120 million fine

        As a US-Government-imposed fine, they can just seize and garnish.

        1. DavCrav Silver badge

          Re: $120 million fine

          "As a US-Government-imposed fine, they can just seize and garnish."

          Well, yeah, but they are still going to have difficulty unless he has a Picasso in the basement.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: $120 million fine

            That's why I said "garnish" as well. Having Uncle Sam take a sizeable cut of each of your paychecks (by court order, on penalty of time in a federal prison) is going to suck.

        2. mosw

          Re: $120 million fine

          "As a US-Government-imposed fine, they can just seize and garnish."

          I originally read that as "just season and garnish" - which somehow seemed an appropriate response to to much spam.

  2. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
    Devil

    I Wonder who...

    His one free phone call will go to?

    Who's betting no-one answers?

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: I Wonder who...

      If he sets up a premium rate line that charges $120m by the minute, he can easily pay off the fine...

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: I Wonder who...

        IIRC read about how some prisons in the US were colluding with telephone companies to extract a lot of money from inmates and their families, forced to use the prison call lines at premium prices...

  3. bondyboy
    FAIL

    Happy Dude

    No reference to Homer and his "Happy Dude" auto dialer scam?

  4. AZump

    Only $120,000,000?

    I was under the impression there was a (up to) $1,500 fine per call. He is going to pay just $1.25 per call. That's almost a reasonable cost of doing business.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Only $120,000,000?

      Let's face it, fines for these kinds of things are eyewash for the masses. The laws should be changed and penalties should increase and minimum sentences in years or even decades. Make the penalty high enough and the problem will drop. However, there are those who always thing that a) they're smarter than the law and b) the law doesn't apply to them.

      1. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

        Re: Only $120,000,000?

        ..The laws should be changed and penalties should increase and minimum sentences in years or even decades.....

        America already operates sentences in centurys.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Only $120,000,000?

        Many US states still have the death penalty.

        Those same states also have the highest murder rates.

        So how will a thousand year sentence help?

        1. LDS Silver badge

          "So how will a thousand year sentence help?"

          There are two types of criminals.

          One won't be stopped by any kind of sentence, because he or she has very little to lose, or a mental state or situation which hinders to asses or fear consequences. Many of these are often involved in crimes which isn't about big money. Prison can't be a deterrent - just a way to keep them locked for a while.

          But the other, which mostly include white-collar criminals, may be more careful if their operations means a long time in a jail, and losing all the accumulated money, especially it they get caught early and money effectively tracked and recoverd. Otherwise, they regard a little time in jail as a "business cost" - offset by the opportunity to get rich easily and quickly.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Problem with white collar crimes...

            If they are stupid enough to try it, they are stupid enough to think they can get away and avoid any size of punishment.

            If they are clever enough to try it, they are over confident and think they are clever enough to escape any size of punishment.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Only $120,000,000?

      That's almost a reasonable cost of doing business.

      For a legitimate business making well segmented cold calls maybe, But not at the likely success rate of spam calling.

  5. wsm

    Could it be?

    This fine has had zero effect on robocalls. If anything, they have increased. Maybe the FCC could try the pillory or guillotine?

    1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: Could it be?

      I suspect most robocall operations are offshore thus harder to nail plus you have an extradition treaty to deal with. His problem appears to be operated in the US robocalling the US; dumber and dumb.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Could it be?

      This fine has had zero effect on robocalls.

      He wasn't fined for robocalling, he was nailed mainly for spoofing the caller ID. Had he simply used a correct number he'd not have been fined (or not on this rap, at any rate).

      1. Wade Burchette

        Re: Could it be?

        "He wasn't fined for robocalling, he was nailed mainly for spoofing the caller ID."

        And having a record message. In the US, all telemarketering calls must have a live person on the other end; recorded messages are always illegal. It is still perfectly legal, unfortunately, for politicians and wanna-be politicians to robocall you to the living end. So long as they do it between certain hours.

  6. ratfox Silver badge
    Devil

    The FCC listens to consumer complaints now?

    Last I heard, they called it DOS attack.

  7. Florida1920 Silver badge
    Pint

    So, I assume

    If I get a robocall for Trump 2020 I can sue?

    1. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: So, I assume

      Nope. Guess who wrote the laws, and guess who they exempted from them.

  8. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    First step the fixing robocalls

    Make the punishment jail rather than fines to the FCC. With all the utterly pointless ideas the FCC has proposed for fixing robocalls, one might think that they've just looking for easy revenue collecting fines.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: First step the fixing robocalls

      No, because some wisecracks can continue to operate from prison. With a big enough fine, the government can seize and garnish.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: First step the fixing robocalls

        "With a big enough fine, the government can seize and garnish."

        Only if there's sufficient there to seize.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: First step the fixing robocalls

          But garnishing isn't dependent on size. They'll just skim off anything you earn in future, and you're encouraged to find a prison job for privileges.

        2. Tree
          Pirate

          Re: First step the fixing robocalls

          Three reasons for punishments: getting even, deterrence, fairness. Let the punishment fit the crime. Put the convict in a cell where a loud bell goes off at random intervals, day and night. If they don't turn it off, it continues to ring. Put the switch to turn off the bell in an inconvenient location. They also must have no access to a phone or other means of communication, because he otherwise may set up a new scam. In addition, there must be an appropriate fine, which is much larger than what.he could have earned.

    2. Wade Burchette

      Re: First step the fixing robocalls

      Have fun putting people who are robocalling from India with a VoIP number in jail.

      The first step is to force the phone companies to actually do something about the problem. They have the ability to stop this, or at least greatly reduce it. But they are too lazy (and cheap) to do anything substantial. Some let you use the service nomorobo.com, but that is not bulletproof because illegal robocallers can just change their numbers daily and even use an active number belonging to a real person. I have had people call me because a robocaller used my number. Stopping robocalls isn't going to increase the phone companies' revenue so they will not do anything about it unless forced.

    3. Jtom Bronze badge

      Re: First step the fixing robocalls

      Why one or the other? Do both. The message should be, pull this shit, and your prison time will be a luxury compared to the poverty that awaits you when you get out. And give the same punishment to those who create and spread computer viruses. Tired of all this BS.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Actual First step the fixing robocalls

      1. Make the telecoms provider equally responsible for payment of fines, they after all could not have been unaware of the robo calls and they allowed the spoofing feature.

      2. Fine the companies who paid for and profitted from the offensive robocalling, without them then there would have been no profit to the assualt.

  9. Charles 9 Silver badge

    As for fixing the robot all problem, simply regulate the caller ID require all calls show their actual number if there's no way to ascertain it (VoIP, international), say it's VoIP of international or whatever. Make call spoofing a case of identity theft.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "simply regulate the caller ID require all calls show their actual number"

      We send thousands of calls out using numbers that don't belong to is on a daily basis.

      As do thousands and thousands of contact centres around the world.

      It's all legit and perfectly legal.

      1. Velv Silver badge
        Mushroom

        We send thousands of calls out using numbers that don't belong to is on a daily basis.

        Then fucking stop doing it. Don’t care if it’s currently legal, it should be illegal. There is no legitimate reason to use a false number. If you’re not prepared to identify yourself with a number owned by you then you fall into the scumbag category.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "Then fucking stop doing it. Don’t care if it’s currently legal, it should be illegal. There is no legitimate reason to use a false number."

          So you really think that number you see when your Insurance company phone up is ACTUALLY coming from someone working for that company? Or are you really that naive?

          Or may you WANT to call your bank back on an international number, you know that one registered in Bangalore.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            "So you really think that number you see when your Insurance company phone up is ACTUALLY coming from someone working for that company?"

            If it isn't it's a problem. In fact, it's one of two problems. One is that it's a fraudster. The other is that the company is outsourcing its relationship with its customers which, in the long run, is an incredibly stupid thing to do.

            This, of course, introduces a third problem: telling which is which. Or, to express it a different way, it makes the telephone, like email, into an untrustable means of communication. If a communication, possibly urgent, from a business such as a bank, is untrustable that is a very serious matter. Any time my bank tried to call me they were unable to authenticate themselves so I simply told them I didn't believe they were the bank. (As these were marketing calls no harm was done.)

          2. Charles 9 Silver badge

            "So you really think that number you see when your Insurance company phone up is ACTUALLY coming from someone working for that company? Or are you really that naive?"

            In such a situation, phones would likely be internally routed through a PBX or the like. In which case, the call would be routed through the internal network before being forwarded outside, and that outside link to the phone company would be the "front door" number, which the Caller ID would report. That's fair enough, as the phone company loses control beyond the front door anyway. Still, perhaps a level of control and liability is needed in such a setup to stem abuse of such a system (like requiring phone company inspection of the interface and assurance it belongs to just one firm).

            1. handleoclast Silver badge

              @Charles 9

              In such a situation, phones would likely be internally routed through a PBX or the like. In which case, the call would be routed through the internal network before being forwarded outside

              Yeah, that's one way to do it. Company in one location contracts out calling customers (I'm talking about calls the customers actually want, not unwanted calls) to a call centre in another location (or possibly more than one call centre). So when the call centre makes a call, it dials a special number for the company that contracted it, a number that is a hunt group for several (perhaps large values of "several") lines at the company itself. Those lines go to a PBX, which then forwards the call to the customer over yet more lines, all to make it look like the call came from the company itself. That's some rather expensive tromboning, requiring twice the number of lines as actual calls and a PBX.

              Or, the company authorizes the call centre to make calls on its behalf using the appropriate calling ID for the company. Legal, legit and moral (again, assuming these are calls the customers want to receive).

              Either way the customer gets a call that identifies itself as being from the company (but is actually from a call centre). One way is a lot more expensive than the other.

              Note: "Lost all faith..." didn't explicitly say that this was what the call centre was doing but he/she/it left enough clues that it was easy to figure out. Yet few people managed to do so. Not even after I responded to him and left a clue that people were missing something.

              1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                I'm of the mind that if my really IS important to you, you'll (a) answer the bloody call at onc r AND (b) do it yourself, if you want something done right. Shows how far you're REALLY willing to go...

          3. Spike of Bayswater

            Just because upstanding citizens such as banks and insurance companies cloak the origin of their calls for not make it legitimate. I doubt that calls to Bangalore would cost more if a Bangalore number were displayed - do they charge now?

        2. 2Nick3 Bronze badge

          "Then fucking stop doing it. Don’t care if it’s currently legal, it should be illegal. There is no legitimate reason to use a false number. If you’re not prepared to identify yourself with a number owned by you then you fall into the scumbag category."

          If someone is calling me from a support center I'd rather have the support line show up on the CallerID than their individual extension. Playing phone tag with a support group can be hard enough, but having to do it with a specific individual is nigh on impossible.

          So there are definitely cases where I see it being a benefit, but you should have to apply for a permit of some kind to do it.

      2. Charles 9 Silver badge

        I disagree. Last I checked, you can legally speak FOR a company, not AS a company (as liability and culpability come into play). It should still be YOUR name on the Caller ID, then you state in your pitch whom you represent.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "It's all legit and perfectly legal."

        That's the problem. It provides cover for those who abuse it. Perhaps it's time to make it illegit and illegal.

      4. handleoclast Silver badge

        We send thousands of calls out using numbers that don't belong to is on a daily basis.

        That was very naughty of you. I'm not talking about making those calls. I'm talking about trolling people by not explaining why such a situation pertains.

        Then again, you gave all the clues so they ought to have been able to figure it out.

        Have an upvote.

    2. LDS Silver badge

      "As for fixing the robot all problem"

      Regulate to make it opt-in only. Even opt-out lists may not work fully, especially if not all numbers are allowed (i.e. mobile ones).

      I can't really see why someone should be allowed to waste my time and interrupt me if I didn't explicitly allowed him. It's a basic human right to be left in peace.

      At least in old times you could unleash dogs against beggars at your door... and some of those beggars were really poor people, not just fraudsters trying to deceive you.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: "As for fixing the robot all problem"

        "It's a basic human right to be left in peace."

        Not in this case. You're running up against the First Amendment which is why campaign calls (political speech) is exempt.

        1. LDS Silver badge

          "is why campaign calls (political speech) is exempt."

          Actually, it isn't. FCC surprised politicians in the last election when the chairman told them that calling mobiles wasn't allowed:

          https://www.fcc.gov/political-campaign-robocalls

          Don't ask me if the difference between mobile and landlines phone makes any sense, but that's the law...

          The First Amendment gives you the right to speech, doesn't force anybody to listen to you...

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: "is why campaign calls (political speech) is exempt."

            "Actually, it isn't. FCC surprised politicians in the last election when the chairman told them that calling mobiles wasn't allowed:"

            That's ONLY because. when the rule was first issued, cell phone users got charged significantly going AND coming (because the wireless network gets used either way). If it weren't for prepaid plans that still only allocate so many minutes (many postpaid plains are flat-rate with calls now), there would be a push to relax the rule, especially with the rise in telephone cord-cutting (thus a similar push for 911 identification of cell phones for emergency services--it dovetails).

          2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

            Re: "is why campaign calls (political speech) is exempt."

            Difference between mobiles and landlines is that mobiles get a limited number of airtime minutes and the calls use those up, and so, cost the person called.

            So the law prohibits robocalls to mobiles.

            Which does f#ck all to stop them.

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: "As for fixing the robot all problem"

          "You're running up against the First Amendment which is why campaign calls (political speech) is exempt."

          Presumably this allows politicians to lose votes by pissing off potential voters. Does it also allow calls to be spoofed as being on behalf of your opponent? That would appear to be the most effective form of robocalling.

        3. EJ
          Pirate

          Re: "As for fixing the robot all problem"

          In a country where it's legal to shoot someone who has come into your house uninvited, it should be the same for a phone call. You can't bring your soapbox in unannounced, set it up in the kitchen, and exercise your first amendment rights.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: "As for fixing the robot all problem"

            But they CAN set it up on the sidewalk outside (which under typical municipal rights of way belongs to the community and falls under the First Amendment) and soapbox away, especially if your back is turned to the house but you're loud enough to be heard anyway.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "As for fixing the robot all problem"

        "At least in old times you could unleash dogs against beggars at your door... and some of those beggars were really poor people, not just fraudsters trying to deceive you."

        Funny, I never heard much about that. Probably due to the assault, manslaughter, and murder charges that followed.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pay up or go to prison

    That should be the two choices.

    BTW, Google and others do the same thing by calling every week asking businesses to update their Google Biz listings (even if you do not actually have one). They give you the "option" of being removed from their robocalls by pressing either the number "2" or "9". In reality this does nothing and they call the next week or again the same week using either a local area code phone number or an international one. How long will it take the FCC before they fine Google $100 BILLION (that's with a "B"), for this chronic abuse and violation of anti-SPAMMING laws?

    The only deterrent for these mega-SPAMMERS is prison time for the execs or BILLIONS in fines.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Pay up or go to prison

      They'll just funnel all the money offshore and send the bigwigs to no-extradition countries. Then what? Big multinationals can play countries against each other.

  11. Trapper John

    The phone carriers need to tighten up their end by making spoofing numbers impossible.

  12. ShortStuff

    The telco's are just as much to blame

    I'm starting to get lots and lots of telemarketing scam calls that are spoofing local numbers. The telco's could prevent the spoofing if they wanted to by replacing the Caller ID with the ANI.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: The telco's are just as much to blame

      What happens with a VoIP or International call?

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

        Re: The telco's are just as much to blame

        A VOIP call has to enter the PSTN at some point, in order to be connected to your mobile.

        There are VOIP gateway companies making money off these robocallers. Time to hold them accountable for what they feed into the PSTN.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: The telco's are just as much to blame

          That may be hard to do if they're based in a country hostile to the West. They'll just go neener-neener protected by foreign sovereignty.

  13. Jtom Bronze badge

    Here's something to think about. Suppose I wanted to put a bell in your house, and tell you anyone in the world can set it off whenever they wanted, day or night? You would likely tell me to go somewhere very hot. Yet that is exactly what we have done with phones.

    If possible, set your phone to ring only for phone numbers you have entered into your contact list (or a subset). Then route every call not on the list straight to voice mail. Take back your privacy. Drive telemarketers out of business.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      I don't think so. They'll just start flooding voicemails with messages intended for voicemail. Once voicemail boxes get full, messages will have to be winnowed out in case they're important, and the last thing you want is an important call balked because the mailbox is full. They're patient. Plus, some are unscrupulous enough to masquerade their number...perhaps even as someone you know.

    2. Steve D
      Happy

      BT Nuisance Call Blocker seems to do ths

      The BT Nuisance Call Blocker phone goes one better than this: If not on the whitelist the incoming caller has to state their name before the phone will ring in the house. It rings, states "Do you want to accept call from [incoming caller]?" and then you accept or reject the call. This has stopped 99.9% of the nuance callers my 86 year old mother-in-law was getting. (I have no connection with BT other than as a purchaser of this phone)

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: BT Nuisance Call Blocker seems to do ths

        What happened to the 0.1% that got through anyway? I would think that number would grow once they figured out how to get around it.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Robocalls/WHOIS

    Back when WHOIS listed data on website owners I received a scam vacation giveaway robocall.

    I never answer calls from unknown numbers but the robocaller left a voicemail that mentioned a website URL.

    Doing a quick WHOIS search and various public records searches I was able to glean the actual phone number of the "advertising" companies CEO.

    He did not find it amusing when I called him to ask him if he'd like to participate in a survey for a chance to win a cruise.

  15. SticksOnSkin

    Er, back 'in the old days' we didn't find ourselves compulsively chained to our phones. Sometimes, we weren't around to answer them, and sometimes we *gasp* even turned them off. How reachable do you really need to be? How connected? A little needy are we? Perhaps one should should endeavor to use their phone wisely instead of being owned by it. I call it a 'grip'. You should get one.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Er, back 'in the old days' we didn't find ourselves compulsively chained to our phones."

      Er, back "in the old days" we tended to miss calls that could be VERY important. Like the call that you mum had a heart attack and as a result died in the hospital without you knowing about it in time to get there for her last moments. Or the client willing to close a big contract if you respond in the next 10 minutes. Or the office letting you know your call to the boonies is cancelled.

      Why do we stay in touch? Because it matters!

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019