FTC Takes Action to Stop Massive Robocalling Operations

As part of the Federal Trade Commission’s ongoing efforts to crack down on illegal, prerecorded “robocalls,” the FTC is taking legal action to stop two operations that allegedly enabled telemarketers to place hundreds of millions of illegal prerecorded calls to consumers around the country, including many who had registered their phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry.

The FTC’s complaints in both cases allege that the defendants offered “self-service” voice broadcasting – a service that makes it easy for marketers who have no telecommunications expertise to deliver tens of millions of robocalls for pennies a call. The defendants arranged for marketers to deliver prerecorded sales pitches by uploading a recorded message and list of telephone numbers through web sites owned by the defendants that would then dial each uploaded phone number and play the designated prerecorded message.

These messages pitched a variety of products and services, including debt relief services, carpet and upholstery cleaning services, auto warranties, mortgage loan modification and foreclosure assistance, timeshares, satellite dish broadcasting, and burial insurance.

According to the FTC’s complaint in the first case, Brian Ebersole, Voice Marketing, Inc., and B2B Voice Broadcasting, Inc. (the “Voice Marketing Defendants”) provided clients with access to computers, telecommunications services, and automated dialers needed to make telephone calls and deliver prerecorded messages. The Voice Marketing Defendants had the ability to make thousands of telephone calls simultaneously and deliver more than one million prerecorded messages each day. They also sold access to their voice broadcasting technology through intermediaries – or “resellers” – that sold robocall services under various names. The Voice Marketing Defendants made hundreds of millions of telephone calls that played prerecorded messages on behalf of such resellers.

One such reseller was JGRD, Inc. d/b/a VoiceBlaze – along with principles Charles Joseph Garis, Jr. and Randall Keith Delp– all of whom were named as defendants (the “VoiceBlaze Defendants”) in a separate FTC enforcement action. According to the FTC’s complaint, the VoiceBlaze Defendants marketed voice broadcasting services that used automated dialing equipment to deliver prerecorded messages through telephone calls.

In both cases, the defendants allegedly conducted or enabled telemarketing campaigns they knew, or should have known, illegally called numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry, abandoned calls by playing a prerecorded message after a person answered, failed to disclose the callers’ identity, and delivered prerecorded messages after September 1, 2009, when amendments to the Telemarketing Sales Rule largely prohibited such calls.

The FTC also alleged that the VoiceBlaze Defendants manipulated the caller names displayed on caller identification services, in violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule. The complaint alleges that, rather than the name of the telemarketer or the name of the seller on whose behalf the telemarketer was calling, the VoiceBlaze Defendants caused consumers’ caller identification services to display names such as “CUSTOMERSVC,” “CUST SERVICE,” “SERVICE,” “SERVICE ANNOUNC” and “INSURANCECO.”

The settlement orders agreed to by the defendants in both cases bar them from violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule and require them to pay civil penalties. Each set of defendants will pay $10,000. The Voice Marketing Defendants and the VoiceBlaze Defendants also agreed to the entry of civil penalty judgments of $2 million and $1 million, respectively, which are suspended based on representations that the defendants lack the ability to pay. If a defendant is found to have misrepresented his or its financial condition, the full penalty will become due immediately.

The settlement orders also include monitoring and reporting requirements to ensure that the defendants comply with the terms of the orders. Specifically, the defendants have agreed to screen the prerecorded messages that subscribers deliver through the voice broadcasting technology they sell, and to stop telemarketing calls that violate the Telemarketing Sales Rule. Defendants have also agreed to distribute copies of the order to their customers.

The Commission vote to authorize the staff to refer the complaints to the Department of Justice, and to approve the proposed consent orders, was 4-0. The DOJ filed the complaints and proposed consent orders on behalf of the Commission on February 23, 2012. In the case against the Voice Marketing defendants, the complaint was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada. In the case against the VoiceBlaze defendants, it was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The proposed consent orders are subject to court approval.

For more information about improper robocalls, read the FTC’s new consumer alert, Robocalls are Illegal: Scammers Use False Caller IDs to Hide.

NOTE: The Commission authorizes the filing of a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law. This consent order is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the defendant of a law violation. Consent orders have the force of law when signed by the District Court judge.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.

(FTC File No. 0923174)

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