TR Daily Block COVID Scam Robocalls Or Be Blocked, FTC, FCC Tell ISPs
Friday, April 3, 2020

Block COVID Scam Robocalls Or Be Blocked, FTC, FCC Tell ISPs

The FCC and the Federal Trade Commission joined forces today to tell three gateway Internet service providers (ISPs)—Connexum, VoIP Terminator d/b/a BLMarketing, and SIPJoin—to “cease routing and transmitting” novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) scam robocall traffic originating from specified entities within 48 hours or face having all their calls blocked by U.S. voice providers.

Specifically, FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Rosemary Harold and FTC Marketing Practices Division Associate Director Lois Greisman asked Connexum and SIPJoin to stop routing and transmitting COVID-19 scam robocalls originating from VoIPMax and asked VoIP Terminator to stop routing and transmitting COVID-19 scam robocalls originating from Oberlo Peer BPO.

They told each of the gateway ISPs that if, after 48 hours of issuance of the letter, it “continues to route or transmit harmful robocall traffic” from the specified entity, “the FCC will authorize other U.S. voice providers to block all calls from [the gateway ISP] and take any other steps as needed to prevent further transmission of unlawful calls from [the gateway ISP], and we will evaluate whether further action is appropriate in connection with your activity.”

The FTC also released a letter sent today to USTelecom President and Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Spalter, in which Ms. Harold and Ms. Greisman “express[ed] gratitude for the USTelecom Industry Traceback Group’s prompt response to identify and mitigate fraudulent robocalls that are taking advantage of the national health crisis related to the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).”

They added, “Robocalls and malicious spoofed calls that prey on consumer fear and anxiety during a national emergency are outrageous and extremely harmful. Our agencies are committed to taking aggressive action against anyone that engages in or facilitates such calls.”

They noted that the industry traceback group helped identify VoIPMax of the Philippines and Oberlo Peer BPO of Pakistan as originators of robocalls that are part of campaigns offering “a non-existent ‘free test kit’ for COVID-19” and “HVAC cleaning services that falsely claim will help fight COVID-19.” The traceback group also helped identify SIPJoin, Connexum, and VoIP Terminator as the gateway providers for the calls, Ms. Harold and Ms. Greisman said.

They noted in the letter to USTelecom that if any of the gateway ISPs continue to route or transmit the traffic in question after 48 hours, “the FCC will: (1) authorize other U.S. providers to block all calls coming from that gateway or originating provider; and (2) authorize other U.S. providers to take any other steps as needed to prevent further transmission of unlawful calls originating from the originator(s) listed above. The FCC will also authorize U.S. providers to extend the obligation to prevent transmission of these unlawful calls with all entities with which they contract or that handle traffic in any part of the call path. Nothing in this letter prohibits any provider from exercising its rights to take immediate action to block unlawful calls pursuant to existing legal authority; we encourage and expect providers to take an active role in managing their networks and client relationships to protect consumers from harmful, illegal robocalls and spoofed calls.”

In a press release, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said, “When it comes to scam robocalls, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. These phone companies need to cut off this traffic and protect consumers from these scams. The choice is simple: Move forward as responsible network providers or see themselves cut off from the phone system. During this national emergency, it is unconscionable that these companies are abusing their access to our nation’s telephone network by serving as conduits for scam robocallers who are subjecting Americans to coronavirus-related fraud. This must end and must end now. And to any other service provider that’s carrying or is thinking of carrying such traffic, be warned: If you do so, you too will find yourselves excluded from our phone system.”

FTC Chairman Joe Simons said, “The FTC will not stand for illegal robocallers that harm the public, particularly in the middle of a health crisis. These warning letters make clear that VoIP providers who help illegal robocallers prey on fears surrounding the Coronavirus are squarely in our sights.”

In a statement following the agencies’ announcement, Mr. Spalter of USTelecom said, “Sad to say, but robocall scammers are out in force during this public health emergency, using COVID-19 to prey on vulnerable consumers. As soon as these scams started popping up, we began aggressively tracing them—literally around the world. You can draw a direct line from our quick traceback work to paths into the U.S. for these dangerous COVID-19 robocalls being shut off.”

Meanwhile, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.), committee ranking member Greg Walden (R., Ore.), consumer protection and commerce subcommittee Chairman Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.), and subcommittee ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.) wrote to the FTC today to urge it to use “all its tools, including its law enforcement tools and coordination with State attorneys general, to take action against scammers and fraudsters that are trying to steal from vulnerable Americans.”

In addition to scam robocalls offering “free home testing kits, promoting bogus cures, and selling health insurance,” the lawmakers cited similar problems with hoax text messaging campaigns, as well as price gouging. —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]

MainStory: FederalNews FCC FTC TelemarketingSpam Covid19

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