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FCC calls for mega $300 million fine for massive US robocall campaign

5 billion calls over three months. Was your phone spammed?

US regulators want to fine the operators of a claimed massive robocall operation almost $300 million that made more than 5 billion pre-recorded calls over three months early last year.

Those five billion calls went to more than 500 million phone numbers between January and March 2021 in what the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) called the largest robocall operation it has ever investigated.

The scheme, apparently run by Roy Cox Jr. and Michael Aaron Jones, made "enough calls to have called each person in the United States 15 times during just those three months," the FCC said in a statement.

The calls violated the FCC's spoofing and robocalling laws and that the violations were so "egregious" that they "deserved a substantially escalated proposed fine," the regulators said.

According to the FCC, entities under the Cox/Jones Enterprise umbrella placed almost 5.2 billion calls to more than 550 million wireless and residential phones during those three months, using more than 1 million unique caller ID numbers. Consumers described the calls to the FCC as "incessant" and "harassment."

It's claimed the calls came from the duo's Sumco Panama company and other US and foreign entities, including organizations in Panama and Hungary. The operation sent pre-recorded calls to consumers urging them to speak with a "warranty specialist" about extending or reinstating their car's warranty.

According to robocall blocking firm RoboKiller, the calls would open with variations of the line, "We've been trying to reach you concerning your car's extended warranty."

Cox and Jones are accused of violating multiple provisions of the anti-robocall and spoofing laws, including failing to get prior consent to make the calls, identifying the caller at the start of the message, and including a call-back number that allows consumers to opt out of future calls. Also, many of the robocalls came from dialing operations outside of the US but used the "neighboring spoofing" tactic to make the caller ID appear to be local, it's said.

The calls also misrepresented what they were offering and make false or misleading statements to consumers. In addition, the companies making calls for Cox and Jones are claimed to have used particularly underhanded tactics.

"[They] called health care workers during a pandemic and spoofed the phone numbers of hospitals which resulted in confused consumers calling the hospitals to complain – tying up the phone lines of vital public safety institutions," the FCC wrote.

The agency said both men will be able to respond to the allegations before a final decision on penalties is made.

Car warranty scams have long been among the most pervasive schemes in robocalls, according to RoboKiller. The number of such robocalls to US consumers jumped from 6.5 billion in 2020 to 13 billion a year later – accounting for 18 percent of all scam calls in 2021 – to 5.7 billion in the first half of this year.

However, in July the FCC issued its first-ever K4 notice and N2 order directing all US-based voice service providers to stop carrying traffic linked to auto warranty scam robocalls. In a report, RoboKiller said the FCC identified Cox and Jones as being behind the bulk of those calls and eight carriers that were letting the calls go through unchecked.

The result of the FCC actions was that the number of such calls since July has dropped 99 percent, the agency said.

Regulators were familiar with both Cox and Jones. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) banned Cox from telemarketing after running a robocall operation that included credit card, auto warranty, and home security scams, according to RoboKiller. Jones was banned in 2017 after making hundreds of millions of calls to people on the Do Not Call registry. ®

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