The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has handed down its largest ever fine for a robocall scam.
The US comms watchdog said that a single agency which was operating under multiple aliases would have to shell out an eye-watering $299m for making an even more eye watering five billion robocalls to mobile phone users.
The enterprise, as the FCC calls it, was accused of violating multiple FCC rules, including dialing numbers listed to the Do Not Call registry, placing pre-recorded calls without prior consent, failing to provide a call-back number, failing to identify the caller at the start of the call, and telemarketing without prior consent.
In each case, the FCC says, the enterprise was looking to trick users into purchasing what they described as "auto warranties" but were in fact car service contracts unrelated to the consumer's automaker or dealership.
"At one point, it seemed like these calls were everywhere. They were more than just a nuisance," FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said.
"That is because this scheme flooding our lines marketing fake car warranties was part of a scam to gain access to our personal and financial information."
In total, the FCC estimates that some 500 million people were served with the unwanted calls. That adds up to ten nuisance robocalls per person, just from this single outfit.
The FCC says that the scheme had been going on since at least 2018 and was largely the work of two people it identified as Roy M. Cox and Aaron Michael Jones. It is believed that the duo and others operated multi-nationally under now fewer than eight different company names, each tasked with the same purpose of selling car service contracts via robocalls.
The commission estimates that, in shutting down the operation, it has wiped out around 99 per cent of all call warranty robocalls, though other shady entities are likely to fill that void, if some have not already.
"We worked to identify who was sending these junk calls—more than five billion of them!—and then armed with the facts gave phone companies permission to cut off this traffic before going one step further and directing them to block it outright," the FCC chair said.
The FCC order does not, however, settle the matter. The commission said it has referred the matter to the Department of Justice, who will now take up the task of pursuing the company and collecting the fine.
In announcing the fine, Rosenworcel also lobbied for increased powers for the FCC, noting that if Congress were to reform the collection process the commission could collect the fines themselves rather than rely on the DOJ.