ALBUQUERQUE, NM (KRQE) – Hands down, it is the most pervasive crime in America today. The crooks will strike anytime, day or night, and anywhere – at your home, or office, and the weapon of choice is not a gun or a knife. It’s a telephone.
There is an army of anonymous peddlers, spammers, and scammers, and their pitches are familiar to most of us. “We are calling you from investigation team of IRS,” says the caller behind one common fraud scheme.
Another begins with, “Hello, I’m calling from the Health Insurance Enrollment Center.”
“This call is from Microsoft Security Department. We’ve encountered a serious issue coming out of your computer,” proclaims one illegal operation.
Last year, telemarketing operations were responsible for an estimated 47,000,000,000 (yes, that’s 47 billion) phone calls, everything from bogus IRS Agents, and fake computer repairs to hearing aid and timeshare hucksters.
“We’re talking about major multinational, illegal crime rings,” says Lauren Hall, a Washington, D.C. based Policy Advocate with the public interest group Consumer Action. “There is no end to the variety of illegal telemarketing calls.”
“We’re talking about people here in the United States who create software used to dial out to millions of houses a day, who partner with massive call centers in India, Guatemala and Nigeria, and other places,” Hall says.
“They’re making the calls often from computer auto-dialing machines. These calls aren’t coming through telephone lines. They’re coming through Voiceover IP, which is through the computer. And this is how scammers can make millions of calls a day and spoof the numbers,” Consumer Action’s Lauren Hall said.
Consider what we’re up against. “(Consumers) are getting a barrage of telephone calls. Some people are unfortunate enough to get 20 or 30 a day… and you just can’t do anything about it, and they feel extremely helpless,” says Southern California telecom engineer Roger Anderson. Anderson has created unique software designed to battle illegal telemarketing.
“You’ve got some of the best minds in the ‘conning’ industry trying to get information out of people,” Anderson says.
Using sophisticated computer software, auto-dialers and caller ID spoofing technology, tele-outlaws operate with little fear of getting caught. Federal and state regulators have been powerless to stem the tide of telemarketing violations. And, just because your phone number is on the Do Not Call Registry doesn’t mean you’re protected.
When asked if, in his experience, phone spammers respect the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call List, telecom engineer Roger Anderson says, “Absolutely not.”
If a telemarketer uses a bogus Caller ID, that’s a crime. If a telemarketer calls you, even though your number is on the Do Not Call List, that’s unlawful. And so is the use of pre-recorded sales pitches.
Despite the flood of violations plaguing cell phones and landlines, consumers are not powerless.
After being bombarded with a daily assault of illegal robocalls, last year KRQE News 13 embarked on a unique year-long investigation designed to fight back against phone scammers and spammers. We had no trouble documenting numerous state and federal violations.
For example, we got a spam call from someone who said they were calling on behalf of Care First Insurance. We asked how they got our phone number. The response? “I wouldn’t be able to help you there. I can help you find health insurance.”
A recorded message from Golden Ticket Getaways announced, “Please hold while we transfer you to the cruise line for the free cruise.”
A pre-recorded sales representative with a resort called Villa Del Palmar called to offer a “Five-day all-inclusive Cabo or Cancun vacations for only $169 per person. Go ahead and press 1 to be connected to an agent.”
A spammer selling medical alarms wouldn’t provide a phone number for his company. “Oh, I don’t have that information,” the anonymous caller said.
In May 2017, we received a telemarketing call from a company hawking solar panels, “I have some good news. We have chosen your home as our next model home to install free solar panels.”
Federal telecommunications laws give aggrieved consumers the right to file their own lawsuits and collect damages for telemarketing violations. So, KRQE News13 gathered our evidence and turned it over to Santa Fe private attorney Sid Childress.
“Our state legislature and Congress have put laws on the books that basically say these telemarketers can be made to pay significant sums of money, not to the government, but to the people they harass,” Childress said.
“My goal is to make (telemarketers) pay as much as possible and to see a smile on my client’s face instead of that aggravation from robocall harassment,” Childress says.
Last year, Sid Childress filed 11 lawsuits on our behalf against out of state telemarketing firms alleging federal and state telecommunications violations.
In two cases, State District Court Judges granted Default Judgements against Higher Response Marketing and Golden Ticket Getaways after both firms failed to respond to our litigation.
Our lawsuit against Hear Better For Life is on hold because the defendant cannot be located.
Eight remaining lawsuits have now been resolved out of court with the defendants making cash payments. While individual settlement agreements are confidential, we have collected a total of $59,900 from telemarketing firms engaged in questionable practices. All the settlement funds will be donated to charitable and non-profit organizations.
Now, of course, many consumers don’t have the time or resources to file lawsuits. But rather than just hanging up on, or cursing at, annoying telemarketers, consumers can fight back.
“There’s really not much the government or the carriers can do about (annoying phone calls). I think it’ll take private enterprise to figure out ways to protect the consumer’s phone lines,” says telecom engineer Roger Anderson. “I think I’ve stumbled across probably the only effective solution to this,” Anderson said.
Welcome aboard Roger Anderson’s Jolly Roger Telephone Company, a cloud-based subscription service that turns the tables on scammers by intercepting robocalls with pre-recorded interactive robots designed to waste telemarketers time.
“When you get a phone call, Jolly Roger Telephone … will intercept it if it’s a known telemarketer and engage with a telemarketer. It’s as simple as that,” Anderson says.
“It’s like having a personal assistant or personal robot pick up the phone for you and talk to the telemarketers. My goal is to disrupt… unsolicited outbound telemarketing,” Anderson said.
Since the Jolly Roger Telephone Company was launched a few years ago, the service has intercepted about 3,000,000 spam phone calls.
“As a telecom engineer, I’m familiar with what (spammers) are using and how they’re using it,” Anderson says. “I’m turning the tables on them with their same technology. I’m going after the illegal spammers, the unwanted calls. I want to get to the point where when your phone rings it’s probably someone you want to talk to,” Roger Anderson tells KRQE News 13.
Another popular subscription service that uses recorded ‘bots’ to waste telemarketers time is a cell phone app called ROBOKILLER.