US court hits master of spoofed robocalls with $10M fine

A Montana federal court has entered a $9.9 million penalty against a man responsible for causing thousands of illegal and malicious spoofed robocalls to consumers across the US.

The case was born out of an investigation conducted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) into unlawful robocalls received by consumers in states including Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, and Virginia in 2018.

The calls displayed inaccurate caller IDs, indicating that they were from local phone numbers. This induced recipients to answer their phones and listen to the recorder messages – and these were often highly disturbing.

As per the Department of Justice, the audio messages were directed at certain communities and intended to offend or harm the recipients. For instance, hundreds of the spoofed robocalls targeted residents in Iowa after a local woman had been murdered.

Similarly, more than 2,000 robocalls reached residents of Charlottesville, a town in Virginia, during the investigation and prosecution of James Alex Fields Jr. for killing one woman and injuring dozens during the “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017.

Many residents who received the calls submitted complaints to the FCC. Soon after, the agency traced the spoofed robocalls to Scott Rhodes, a resident of Idaho and Montana. In January 2021, the FCC imposed a $9,918,000 forfeiture penalty against Rhodes.

The man was additionally sued in Montana to recover the penalty, and the court has now entered an injunction and the full financial penalty against him.

“Virtually every Montanan has been the subject of unwanted and harassing robocalls, and the person responsible for such calls usually escapes accountability,” said US Attorney Jesse Laslovich for the District of Montana.

“But not this time. In placing thousands of harassing and malicious spoofing calls to consumers across the country, Rhodes showed a blatant disregard to caller ID and telephone consumer protection laws designed to prevent this sort of conduct.”

It, of course, helped that the robocalls were unlawful. Spoofing, which is a scammer attack, causes the telephone network's caller ID to indicate to the receiver of a call that the originator of the call is a station other than the true originating station.

Legal robocalls – even if they annoy many – are allowed in Montana. In 2019, a federal appeals court ruled that the state cannot ban political robocalls based on their content alone because the restriction would violate the First Amendment’s free-speech protections.

The FCC has been investigating illegal robocall operations more vigorously lately. In 2023, it hit an international network of companies that made a staggering five billion robocalls over three years with a nearly $300 million fine.

Robocalling volumes are immense, with billions made monthly in the US alone. Losses from robocalling are sky-high, with 2022 estimates at $65 billion lost in scams, according to robocall security firm Robokiller.

More from Cybernews:

UnitedHealth's Change to begin processing $14B in medical claims

Phone company Nothing calls on fans to create device redesign

‘Inner monologue’ makes AI smarter

Garmin's stress score: is your smartwatch in tune with your mood?

Android 15 might include a music-sharing feature 

Subscribe to our newsletter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are markedmarked