Senators grill alleged robocall kingpin

Senators grill alleged robocall kingpin
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Senators grilled a Florida man who is accused of making 96 million robocalls during a hearing Wednesday focused on curbing fraudulent phone calls.

Adrian Abramovich of Miami, who faces a $120 million fine from regulators, appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee.

Robocalls, or automated solicitation calls, often attempt to trick consumers into giving over personal information or money.

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Abramovich’s robocalls offered vacation deals from prominent companies like Marriott, Hilton and TripAdvisor. But those who sought more information were forwarded to a call center where operators attempted to sell them packages from unaffiliated resorts. 

“Unwanted, abusive and illegal robocalls have got to stop,” said Commerce Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate gets to work in August — but many don’t show up GOP leader criticizes Republican senators for not showing up to work Ex-Trump adviser: Shutdown 'not worst idea in the world' MORE (R-S.D.).

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called Abramovich “the face of this problem.”

Abramovich refused to discuss the details of his case, but defended his practices, saying he did nothing illegal and sold customers actual vacation packages.

“All the resorts were legitimate. All the vacations, everything was included. There was no fraudulent activity,” he told lawmakers. “Costumers knew what packages they were purchasing.”

Blumenthal pressed Abramovich on the prohibited practice, known as spoofing, which allows calls to appear to come from a local area code.

“The robocalls in your activities involved misleading or inaccurate information ... designed to make the calls seem like they appeared to be from one location, when they in fact came from another,” Blumenthal said.

Abramovich said spoofing was “very easy” and cited an abundance of open source software for robocalling. He said one person could make 10,000 calls daily.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that fraud from unwanted calls adds up to $9.5 billion annually. Of the 7 million complaints that the FTC received in 2017, the agency reports that more than 60 percent involved robocalls.

Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday also wrote to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, urging him to take new steps to protect consumers from such calls.

Their letter comes after a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last month that struck down portions of the FCC’s Telephone Consumer Protections Act. The regulation restricted robocallers' ability to indiscriminately call millions of consumers.

Lawmakers are also looking at legislation.

The Robocall Enforcement Enhancement Act of 2018, introduced by Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzGOP leader criticizes Republican senators for not showing up to work Senate takes shot at Trump, passes resolution affirming 'press is not the enemy of the people' Pentagon’s No. 2 official: Trump’s ‘Space Force’ could cost 'billions' MORE (D-Hawaii), would increase the statue of limitations on robocall cases from one year to three.

Blumenthal has introduced the Repeated Objectionable Bothering of Consumers on Phones Act or the ROBOCOP Act. This bill would require phone companies to offer tools at no cost to help consumers block these calls.

Lawmakers from both parties took turns blasting robocalls.

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSenate gets to work in August — but many don’t show up Pearl Jam criticized for poster featuring dead Trump, burning White House Montana GOP Senate hopeful touts Trump's support in new ad MORE (D-Mont.) addressed Abramovich as the hearing drew to a close.

“If I want to buy something, I’ll call you,” he said. “Don’t call me.”