Robocall block: Now US wants to fine man $12.9m for making 'harmful' robocalls

The man made thousands of calls to US households in the hope of boosting the profile of his podcast.

Robocalls increased by billions in 2019: Can tech help?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has suggested a fine of $12.91m for one man accused of calling US consumers with a spoofed number. 

The proposed fine relies on the 2009 Truth in Caller ID Act, which was beefed up last year to give the regulator the authority to pursue offshore robocall outfits and VoIP calls. The original Act also prohibits spoofing caller IDs to defraud and cause harm to people.  

The robocalls that drew the proposed fine were made by the owner of a US business who apparently believed that making threatening calls to victims would attract media attention and then boost his website and personal brand.

SEE: 10 tips for new cybersecurity pros (free PDF)

According to the FCC, the man made nearly 6,500 automated calls across six campaigns to residents in California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, and Virginia. 

The calls, made from an online platform, used so-called 'neighbor spoofing' to make it appear they were placed from local numbers. 

The calls were made to target a "community grappling with the recent murder of a local woman, threaten a journalist and newspaper, and attempt to influence a jury", the FCC said. 

According to the Des Moines Register, the calls were allegedly made by a neo-Nazi podcaster who attempted to exploit the murder of 20-year-old Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts to promote white nationalist propaganda. 

Tibbetts went missing in her hometown Brooklyn, Iowa in 2018 while out jogging. 

"As if this tragedy were not enough, just two days after her funeral, Mollie's family, friends, and the close-knit community of Brooklyn began to receive a barrage of spoofed robocalls," said FCC chairman Ajit Pai.  

"Preying on the tragedy, the calls contained inflammatory prerecorded messages and a woman's voice apparently intended to impersonate Mollie Tibbetts saying 'kill them all' – the 'them' referring to illegal aliens from Mexico."

"Our Notice of Apparent Liability will not undo the harm caused by these spoofed robocalls, particularly to the grieving family of Mollie Tibbetts and the community of Brooklyn. But it once again makes clear this Commission's determination to go after those who are unlawfully bombarding the American people with spoofed robocalls."

SEE: Robocalling is out of control. Can an app help?

Earlier this week the US Justice Department filed two lawsuits against five US-based firms for enabling foreign criminals to make hundreds of millions of robocalls to US consumers.

The department charged the companies with wire fraud in a bid to achieve a speedy halt to robocalls each company allegedly enabled.

More on the US crackdown on robocalls

  • Blocking robocalls: Now US-based VoIP 'gateway carriers' hit by DoJ lawsuits
  • Trump signs the TRACED Act, the first federal anti-robocall law  
  • AT&T to auto block fraud robocalls for free, but blocking spam calls will cost extra  
  • FCC chief Ajit Pai: Let's ban caller ID spoofing in SMS and foreign robocalls  
  • Robocalls: FCC wants them blocked by default but you may pay extra
  • Robocall scams surge to 85 billion globally
  • AT&T, Comcast successfully test SHAKEN/STIR protocol for fighting robocalls
  • Plagued by robocalls? 26 billion spam calls in 2018, quarter from scammers
  • Verizon to roll out free robocall spam protection to all customers
  • T-Mobile launches caller verification to protect customers from scams
  • Here's how Apple, Google, and Microsoft can stop robocalls
  • Google robocall scam: We're suing hustlers who pretend to be us, warns Google
  • Top 5 ways to block spam calls TechRepublic
  • FCC Chairman Ajit Pai calls for an end to 'illegal robocalls' CNET