The Federal Communications Commission summoned all its regulatory strength on Thursday and dropped a record $ 120 million fine for a notorious robocall operator who made nearly 100 million fake phone calls. It's just a shame that the punishment is unlikely to achieve anything.
Adrian Abramovich of Miami, Florida, was the recipient of the biggest forfeiture ever imposed by the FCC for its three-month spam campaign, which earned $ 96 million in unwanted calls that offered the unfortunate recipients "exclusive" travel deals probably were fake.
That's how Abramovich's operation worked: with open source software and automatic dialing services, he placed millions of calls with fake phone numbers. Calls are displayed locally – a practice known as "neighbor spoofing". Recipients who answered the call automatically heard a message from well known travel companies like Marriott, Expedia, Hilton and TripAdvisor. If the person had succumbed to the temptation of the automated bid, they would be transferred to a foreign call center where live operators were trying to sell them on unrelated vacation packages and timeshares.
Before Abramovich was punished, he begged his case when he testified last month before the Senate Committee on Trade, Science and Transport. The roboaller did not deny that he made millions of calls to people, but argued that it was no big deal. According to his written test, 96 percent of the calls were "less than a minute" – because people quit spammers fairly quickly – and less than two percent of the people "had any meaningful interaction" with the calls.
"Most of these calls do not bother anyone," Abramovich said. He argued that he had "no intention … of deceiving, of causing harm or of improperly valuing," which is strange because it seemed to be exactly what he intended.
"Our decision sends a loud and clear message," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement announcing the record-breaking sentence. "This FCC is an active cop in combat and will throw the book at anyone who violates our spoofing and robocall rules and harms the consumer."
There is probably not much sympathy for Abramovich, who almost certainly will not be able to pay the fine imposed on him by the FCC – and rightly so, because robocalls are damn annoying. But with the penalty, the commission pulled a minnow and mounted it on the wall.
Abramovich, who was prolific in his efforts to promote spam, placed 96 million calls within three months. In April 2018 alone, 3.4 billion Robocalls were placed. At the rate he spammed people, Abramovich would have made less than one percent of the total calls made last month.
While some promises were that smartphones would eventually eradicate robocalls, the problem has only gotten worse. The Federal Trade Commission reported last year that it received 4.5 million complaints about robocalls in 2017. The problem was also the top consumer complaint that the FCC received. The fierce punishment against Abramovich will not do much to slow down the phone calls except perhaps scare off some Robocalers.
The government could not do much to deal with the robocalists. Telecommunications companies such as AT & T, T-Mobile, Comcast and Verizon have recently introduced a new robocall blocking technology that is promising when it comes to attacking handset owners. If you want to do something yourself, there are a number of apps and services that can help you stop some of the unsolicited calls.