On July 18, 2023, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in collaboration with over 100 federal and state law enforcement agencies, announced a sweeping nationwide enforcement action called "Operation Stop Scam Calls," directed at telemarketers, lead generators, and VoIP service providers allegedly responsible for making or facilitating billions of illegal telemarketing calls.
Operation Stop Scam Calls
The joint-agency crackdown, titled "Operation Stop Scam Calls," is an integral component of the FTC’s ongoing effort to combat illegal telemarketing, with robocalls as the main target. Extending beyond those who actually make the calls, the initiative also targets the entities that help facilitate them, from the so-called “consent farms,” that gather consumer contact data, to the lead generators who purchase it and the VoIP service providers whose networks carry the calls.
The crackdown, which encompasses more than 180 planned measures undertaken by 48 federal and 54 state agencies, also targets VoIP service providers and carriers that facilitate the transmission of illegal robocalls, many of which originate overseas. Key participants in this effort include the Department of Justice, the Federal Communications Commission, the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, all of which announced various related actions.
“Today, government agencies at all levels are united in fighting the scourge of illegal telemarketing. We are taking action against those who trick people into phony consent to receive these calls and those who make it easy and cheap to place these calls," stated Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, during a press conference held in Chicago to announce the initiative. "The FTC and its law enforcement partners will not rest in the fight against illegal telemarketing."
Five New Enforcement Actions Announced
At the press conference announcing the crackdown, the FTC also revealed five new enforcement actions targeting companies and individuals it believes responsible for facilitating illegal telemarketing activity. The actions, each of which were unanimously ratified by the Commission, are as follows:
- Fluent, LLC: In a civil complaint filed by the Department of Justice, the FTC alleges New York data giant Fluent, LLC and several related corporate defendants tricked consumers into consenting to receive telemarketing calls and other solicitations in violation of the FTC Act, TSR, and the CAN-SPAM Act. Under a proposed order resolving the complaint, Fluent will be required to pay a $2.5 million civil penalty and be banned from engaging in, assisting, or facilitating robocalls. The order includes additional restrictions on Fluent’s business activities.
- Viceroy Media Solutions, LLC: In another complaint the FTC alleges Viceroy Media Solutions, LLC, which does business as quick-jobs.com, and Voltron Interactive, violated the FTC Act and the TSR by assisting and facilitating millions of illegal robocalls while doing business as a telemarketing lead generator. The proposed order settling the charges bans the defendants from helping companies place robocalls and imposes a $913,636 civil penalty.
- Yodel Technologies, LLC: In its complaint against Yodel Technologies, the FTC claims the telemarketing company violated the TSR by calling millions of DNC-listed numbers without consent, and used soundboard technology to hawk a range of products and services to the consumers who answered the calls, including auto insurance, cruises, medical devices, extended auto warranties, and supposed assistance with Social Security benefits. The proposed order settling the complaint bans Yodel from telemarketing activities, either directly or through an intermediary, and imposes a $1 million civil penalty.
- Solar Xchange LLC: In a complaint filed in Arizona, the FTC and the Arizona Attorney General accuse New Jersey-based Solar Xchange and its owners of making millions of unlawful telemarketing calls to Arizona consumers whose numbers are listed on the DNC Registry in which the defendants falsely claimed to be affiliated with a utility company or government agency and misrepresented the amount of money that consumers could save by installing solar panels. The proposed order resolving the charges prohibits the defendants from engaging in similar activity in the future, and imposes a partially suspended civil penalty of $13.8 million.
- Hello Hello Miami, LLC: The FTC’s complaint against Florida-based VoIP service provider Hello Hello Miami its owner alleges that the defendants assisted and facilitated the transmission of approximately 37.8 million illegal robocalls by providing VoIP services to more than 11 foreign telemarketers.
The Operation Stop Calls announcement, together with the enforcement actions inaugurating the crackdown, underscores the FTC’s stance against “consent farms”- data providers that facilitate illegal robocalls by ignoring the TSR’s prohibition against utilizing third-party lead generators to obtain consent for robocalls, which was previously referenced by the FTC’s Lois Greisman at the PACE Washington Summit this past May.
The FTC and its many law enforcement partners have doubled down on their efforts to curb illegal telemarketing and have made it clear that they intend to target anyone involved, including lead generators, call centers, VoIP companies, and data providers.
Thus far, the FTC has filed 167 lawsuits against these and other targets, who have been required to pay over $2 billion in restitution and penalties, $394 million of which has been collected.
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