Vigilance and collaboration to combat illegal robocalls and protect consumers was the unofficial theme of the recent 2022 Robocall Summit in Detroit. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost joined NAAG in bringing together staff from Attorney General Offices, federal agencies, industry groups, and others to discuss education, enforcement tools and lessons learned by states already in the thick of fighting robocalls.
The event featured state regulators and federal law enforcement, along with representatives of consumer advocacy groups. Law-enforcement participants learned more about the current state of the robocall epidemic and discussed how to identify voice service providers who are aiding unlawful robocalls, how to use investigative resources to build a robocall case, and how to put those resources to work in the face of jurisdictional challenges. The law-enforcement-only day ended with a discussion about the consent requirements in the Telemarketing Sales Rule and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
The public part of the event began with a panel of senior staff from the Ohio, Indiana, and Vermont Attorney General Offices, led by Attorney General Nessel. The panelists discussed current and pending legislation, litigation and education and outreach efforts. A representative of the National Consumer Law Center outlined its recent report on fraudulent robocalls, and telecom industry representatives described their efforts to combat robocalls using commercially available tools. The summit concluded with federal partners including the Federal Trade Commission, Federal Communications, and Department of Justice, providing a review of recent law enforcement actions.
In welcoming remarks, Ohio Attorney General Yost detailed the creation of Ohio’s Robocall Enforcement Unit. This team of attorneys, investigators and other staff from the Consumer Protection Section educates Ohioans about robocalls, receives and tracks robocall complaints, and launches legal action. Yost created the unit to make Ohio one of the toughest states in the nation for robocallers. He directed the unit to go after every player in the robocall scheme – from the telemarketers making the calls, to those originating the schemes, to the voice service providers carrying the calls.
The unit recently issued 10 warning letters to VoIP providers who are providing support for their customers that may be engaging in illegal conduct. This puts the recipients on notice about the potential legal consequences and sends a message to others in the industry who might be turning a blind eye to bad behavior.
Ohio also recently reached a settlement with a voice service provider, G4, requiring the company to stop carrying illegal robocall traffic and to screen future customers to avoid aiding robocallers.
Most recently, the Ohio Attorney General’s Robocall Enforcement Unit filed suit against 22 individuals and companies known as the “Sumco Group.” The enforcement action followed a lengthy investigation involving more than 60 subpoenas that tracked the defendants through a variety of business names. The defendants were highly organized, and some had been violating telemarketing laws for at least a decade.
The ringleaders – Aaron Michael Jones and Roy Cox of California — have been the subject of previous FTC actions. The Sumco Group operation prompted consumers to file more than 1,600 unwanted-call complaints to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. The unit found that, at times, the Sumco Group bombarded consumers with more than 77 million robocalls per day to generate sales leads for “car warranty” plans – many times “spoofing” the phone numbers that appeared on recipients’ caller ID.
On the same day Ohio filed its case, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it had issued cease-and-desist letters to some of the same targets. Additionally, the FCC issued a public notice to all U.S.-based voice service providers authorizing them to cut off any traffic from those targets.
While many robocalls originate outside the U.S., investigators should not assume all of the call originators are out of reach. Ohio’s case against the Sumco Group is a perfect example of bad actors located right here in the United States.
Scammers are constantly searching for new ways to take consumers’ money or confidential information. We don’t know if 10 years from now robocalls will still be one of the tools in their toolbox. But our offices will continue to use every tool available in our toolboxes to enforce the law and protect consumers.
Other articles in this edition include:
- Consumer Chief of the Month
- Attorney General Consumer Protection News: July 2022
- Federal Consumer Protection News: July 2022