The FCC today proposed imposing a $82.106 million fine against Philip Roesel for allegedly placing more than 21 million robocalls that used spoofed caller ID information. FCC investigators confirmed 82,106 spoofed robocalls were placed between October 2016 and January of this year by Mr. Roesel’s Best Insurance in violation of the Truth in Caller ID Act.
The FCC launched the investigation following a complaint by medical paging service Sp?k to the commission that robocalls were disrupting its network, the FCC said in a statement.
The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau then subpoenaed Mr. Roesel’s phone records and verified the health insurance company’s calls violated the law. “His apparently illegal robocalls were disruptive and dangerous” because they hindered the ability of staff using Sp?k’s service to communicate, Kimbarly Taylor, an attorney-adviser in the Telecommunications Consumers Division of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, said during the commission’s public meeting today.
“The evidence shows that Roesel intended the robocalls to cause harm and wrongfully obtain information of value,” Taylor said. “The evidence also shows that Roesel also apparently targeted vulnerable consumers and knew that the calls were illegal.”
Mr. Roesel, the FCC said, used spoofing to “evade detection by consumers and law enforcement and escape punishment for his actions.”
Speaking during the meeting, Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn equated the FCC’s ongoing efforts to crack down on illegal robocalls as a game of “whack-a-mole,” and noted the FCC proposed a $120 million forfeiture last month against Adrian Abramovich for alleged violations (TR Daily, June 22).
“The consumer harm from the flood of robocalls is very significant and real,” she said. Ms. Clyburn criticized Mr. Roesel for using the spoofed robocall calls to target “three of our most vulnerable populations—the elderly, the infirm, and poor people.” She also cited reports quoting Mr. Roesel as telling an employee “The dumber, the more broke” recipients of the robocalls were, “the better” it was for his company.
That “unconscionable statement,” Ms. Clyburn said, “is among the many reasons I support today’s action and the significant financial penalty associated with it.”
FCC Chairman Pai also sharply criticized Mr. Roesel for the “gall” he displayed for instructing his employees about “which consumers to pick on” and bragging that the violations were “minor legal violations” similar to driving above the speed limit. “Well, today the entire operation hits a big speed bump,” Mr. Pai said during the meeting. The proposed fine against Roesel “sends yet another message to illegal robocallers” about the consequences of their actions, he added.
“Like many for who illegal robocalls are a business model, [Mr. Roesel] sought to hide his tracks,” Chairman Pai said. “He knowingly used unassigned phone numbers to display inaccurate Caller ID information so that he could avoid detection and evade law enforcement.”
The FCC noted in its statement it is currently “exploring ways to set up a reliable system to verify that a phone call is really coming from the phone number that it claims to be.”
The commission voted 3-0 to approve the proposed fine, with Commissioner Mike O’Rielly concurring in part. During the meeting, Mr. O’Rielly said the “work in this item is stronger and more specific than recent items,” but that he was “suspect” about some of its conclusions. —Jeff Williams