DOJ seeks court approval to stop companies from making robocalls

Key Points
  • The U.S. Justice Department announced its first-ever enforcement action against telecommunications companies over robocalls, the agency announced Tuesday.
  • The filing accuses those companies of "facilitating robocallls across their networks," according to a press conference held Tuesday.
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Todd Haselton | CNBC

The U.S. Justice Department announced its first-ever enforcement actions against telecommunications operators for facilitating robocalls, including two groups "originating in India, and operating out of residential addresses in New York and Arizona," said Jody Hunt, Assistant Attorney General for the department's civil division.

The groups were responsible for hundreds of millions of calls per month, Hunt said. The Justice Department is seeking court approval to stop the organizations from making further calls, he said. The companies include two Arizona-based companies and three Long Island, N.Y.-based companies, all of which were operated out of residential addresses in those states, according to the press conference.

The Arizona defendants are, SIP Retail and their owner-operators, Nicholas Palumbo and Natasha Palumbo of Scottsdale. The New York defendants are Global Voicecom Inc., Global Telecommunication Services Inc., KAT Telecom Inc. and their owner-operator Jon Kahen of Great Neck, N.Y. The defendant companies and individuals could not immediately be reached for comment.

The accused companies serve "gateways" for the fraudulent call operators, and take payment for facilitating the calls and passing them into the regular U.S. telecommunications network using digital voice over IP technology, according to the Justice Department. Companies like AT&T and other large telecommunications companies had already advised the companies they were facilitating fraudulent calls, the department said.

Through these gateways, overseas fraudsters used fake numbers to mimic emergency lines or government agencies like the IRS or social security administration, hoping to rope U.S. residents into financial scams based on the premise that the victims owed a government agency money or were subject to some kind of law enforcement action if they did not pay, the DOJ said.

The robocalls have led to losses of hundreds of millions of dollars, Hunt said.

Robocalls are getting out of hand and here's how to stop them
Robocalls are getting out of hand and here's how to stop them

Robocalls have consistently reached a rate of hundreds of billions per year, and have gained the attention of Congress, with legislators calling for frequent hearings on the topic. The Justice Department and other agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission, have tried to crack down on the problem by targeting the perpetrators of the bothersome automated calls, but have found it increasingly difficult to handle.

This marks a significant shift in strategy by holding the telecommunications giants accountable for the robocalls on their networks rather than only the low-level criminals -- many of whom are based overseas -- who use the calls as part of financial scams.

The announcement was held jointly with the Social Security Administration and U.S. Postal Service, as well as the Justice Department's Elder Justice Coordinator.

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