Federal regulators on Thursday said they've identified "the perpetrator of one of the largest ... illegal robocalling campaigns" they have ever investigated.
The Federal Communications Commission has proposed a $120 million fine for a Miami resident said to be single-handedly responsible for almost 97 million robocalls over just the last three months of 2016.
Officials say Adrian Abramovich auto-dialed hundreds of millions of phone calls to landlines and cellphones in the U.S. and Canada and at one point even overwhelmed an emergency medical paging service.
Making prerecorded telemarketing phone calls to people without their prior consent is prohibited. So is making telemarketing calls to emergency phone lines and deliberately falsifying caller ID to disguise identity with the intent to harm or defraud consumers.
According to the FCC, the robocalls made by Abramovich through his ambiguously named companies (Marketing Strategy Leaders or Marketing Leaders) would show up "spoofed" as if they came from a phone number with the same area code and the same first three digits of the recipient's number.
If the recipients answered, they'd get a recording offering an "exclusive" vacation deal from prominent travel companies such as Expedia, Marriott, Hilton or TripAdvisor — instructing them to "Press 1" to learn more. But pressing 1 would instead land people on a line with a call center hawking "discounted" vacation packages and time-shares unaffiliated with any of those brands.
According to FCC documents, TripAdvisor investigated some of the robocalls that purported to offer that company's deals and found call centers that it said were based in Mexico.
Abramovich now faces the largest penalty ever proposed by the FCC, according to FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. The fine is for Abramovich's unlawful caller ID spoofing, the FCC says. The agency's Enforcement Bureau has also issued a citation to Abramovich, and the documents say his "mass robocalling campaigns violate the Communications Act, and his misrepresentations in the prerecorded messages constitute criminal wire fraud."
Abramovich now has 30 days to respond to the FCC, which is expected to finalize the investigation and penalties in the following months.