FCC Imposes $116 Million Fine for Unsolicited Pre-Recorded Calls to Toll-Free Numbers
The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) today has taken decisive action, issuing a substantial fine of $116,156,250 against a group of entities responsible for inundating toll-free numbers with nearly 10 million robocalls. This group comprises individuals and organizations, including Thomas Dorsher, ChariTel, OnTel, and ScammerBlaster (collectively, “Dorsher Enterprise”). Despite presenting themselves as advocates against scam robocalls, they were in fact themselves bombarding toll-free numbers with illegal robocalls.
Toll-Free Number Targeting
According to the FCC, Dorsher Enterprise’s business model involved specifically targeting toll-free numbers with robocalls. The motivation behind this strategy apparently was to receive compensation for each call placed to a toll-free number. When a call is made to a toll-free number, the recipient pays their toll-free service provider for connecting the call. Subsequently, the toll-free service provider compensates the caller’s local exchange carrier for facilitating the connection. In this case, the FCC found that the local exchange carrier, benefiting from the fees generated by these robocalls, shared the proceeds with Dorsher Enterprise in the form of credits.
Dorsher Enterprise misappropriated the credits acquired from their toll-free number robocalls to finance telephony denial of service (TDoS) attacks on other entities. These attacks have the potential to severely disrupt communication networks, posing a significant challenge to public safety stakeholders, including emergency response services.
Importantly, the law explicitly prohibits robocalls made to recipients who incur charges for the call, such as subscribers to toll-free numbers, unless the caller has obtained prior express consent or there is an emergency purpose. The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau investigation uncovered that, within a two-month period in 2021, Dorsher Enterprise executed a staggering 9,763,599 prerecorded voice message calls to toll-free numbers, all without the necessary consent or a valid emergency reason. These prerecorded messages discussed the perils of scam calls and directed recipients to report such incidents to government regulators, telephone carriers, and ScammerBlaster.
Involvement and Legal Action
The Industry Traceback Group successfully traced the origin of these calls to Mr. Dorsher and ChariTel, leading to the discovery of OnTel’s and ScammerBlaster’s involvement in the scheme. In addition to the FCC’s fine, a federal grand jury independently indicted Dorsher and others on multiple federal criminal counts related to the TDoS attacks on November 22, 2022.
This recent action by the FCC serves as a reminder of the legal consequences associated with illegal robocalling practices. It underscores the importance of compliance with regulations designed to protect consumers and maintain the integrity of communication networks. If you have any concerns or questions regarding this matter or other legal issues, please do not hesitate to reach out to our firm for guidance.
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Given the complexity and evolving nature of the FCC’s rules, regulations and industry policies & procedures around Robocall Mitigation and Compliance issues (e.g., Stir/Shaken, TRACED Act, FCC Rules & Regulations, US Telecom Industry group, ATIS, NECA, VoIP Numbering Waivers, Know Your Customer and the private sector ecosystem), as well as the increased risk of business disputes, consumer protection enforcement by state attorneys general, and even civil litigation, and anticipating the potential torrent of client questions and concerns, The CommLaw Group formed a “Robocall Mitigation Response Team” to help clients (old and new) tackle their unique responsibilities.
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