The Federal Communications Commission is seeking a $225 million fine—the largest proposed penalty in the FCC’s 86-year history—against a health insurance telemarketer for allegedly making approximately one billion illegally spoofed robocalls.
According to the FCC, telemarketer Rising Eagle made approximately 1 billion spoofed robocalls across the country during the first 4 1/2 months of 2019 on behalf of clients that sell short-term, limited-duration health insurance plans. John Spiller, one of the founders of Rising Eagle, admitted to the USTelecom Industry Traceback Group (ITG) that he knowingly called consumers on the “Do Not Call” list. ITG is a collaborative effort of companies across the wireline, wireless, VoIP, and cable industries that actively trace and identify the source of illegal robocalls.
Spiller also admitted he made millions of calls per day using spoofed numbers. The robocalls falsely claimed to offer health insurance plans from well-known companies, including Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, and UnitedHealth Group.
In February 2019, the Missouri Attorney General filed a lawsuit against Rising Eagle’s largest client, Health Advisors of America, for telemarketing violations. According to ITG, approximately 23.6 million health insurance robocalls crossed the networks of the four largest wireless carriers each day in 2018. The FCC Enforcement Bureau’s investigation found that a large portion of these robocalls were driven by Rising Eagle.
The Truth in Caller ID Act prohibits manipulating caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value. The FCC’s investigation found the robocalls made by Rising Eagle were spoofed to deceive consumers, targeted millions of “Do Not Call” list participants, and were received on many wireless phones without prior consumer consent.
The scam also caused the companies whose caller IDs were spoofed to become overwhelmed with angry call-backs from aggrieved consumers. At least one company was hit with several lawsuits because its number was spoofed, and another was so overwhelmed with calls that its telephone network became unusable.
In December 2019, President Trump signed into law the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, which is further intended to crack down on illegal, unwanted robocalls. The TRACED Act significantly broadens the authority of the FCC to discipline those who violate telemarketing restrictions; gives the FCC more time to take action against violators of the Truth in Caller ID Act; and requires providers of voice services to adopt call authentication technologies, enabling a telephone carrier to verify incoming calls are legitimate before they reach consumers’ phones, among other actions.