By Brian Fung, CNN
(CNN) — The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday cracked down on a massive illegal robocall operation responsible for billions of auto-warranty scam calls in recent years, with regulators imposing a record $300 million fine on what authorities said is the largest such network it has ever investigated.
The globe-spanning illegal operation violated US telecom laws by making more than five billion robocalls to more than half a billion phone numbers over the course of just three months in 2021, the FCC said in a release Wednesday.
But the campaign had been in existence for even longer, the FCC added. Using a multitude of shell companies, aliases and fly-by-night phone providers allegedly under their control, the people behind the network — which CNN has previously reported on — had sought to dupe unwitting consumers into buying shoddy service contracts for their vehicles since 2018.
The ringleaders of the operation, Roy Melvin Cox Jr. and Aaron Michael Jones, were repeat offenders who had already been under judicial orders not to engage in telemarketing.
The turning point
A breakthrough in enforcement came last July, when Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a lawsuit against the network that outlined many of the operation’s details, including its organizational structure. At the same time, the FCC directed US voice providers to stop carrying calls originating from providers used by the network.
Within weeks, third-party industry estimates showed an 80% reduction in the volume of auto-warranty spam calls in the United States, and on Thursday, the FCC said the move ultimately led to a 99% reduction in such calls.
The Ohio AG’s lawsuit had been the culmination of a joint state and federal investigation that also highlighted the growing effectiveness of technology and policies aimed at beating back the tide of illegal robocalls.
For example, improvements in call-tracing have allowed investigators to quickly identify the source of unwanted, automated calls, while additional FCC policies have enabled regulators to block entire voice providers from the US telephone network for robocall violations.
The partnership between the FCC and Ohio officials has also been replicated with 46 other states, the District of Columbia and Guam, with Hawaii and New Mexico joining the list on Thursday, the FCC said.
It is now up to the Justice Department to collect on the federal fine, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement, adding that in the future, Congress should authorize the FCC to seek payment through the courts directly on its own.
“We know the scam artists behind these calls are relentless — but we are coming for them and won’t stop until we get this junk off the line,” Rosenworcel said.
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