49 Attorneys General Sue Major Robocall Company

robocaller in office Photo Source: Adobe Stock Image

It’s 6:00 in the morning. Your phone rings and wakes you up. You answer it because you think anyone who calls you at that hour needs to speak with you urgently about something important. The caller, however, asks you if you want to buy a new warranty on your car. Or perhaps, she informs you that your Social Security check will not arrive unless you confirm your account number. Surprise! It’s a robocall, and you are now among the 25 billion call recipients who confront this nuisance each month.

Can anything be done about these usually dangerous, and always annoying, robocalls? Attorneys General (AGs) from 49 states have joined a bipartisan coalition to sue Avid Telecom, an Arizona limited company, for allegedly making billions of robocalls themselves or through their “network.” The lawsuit, filed on May 23 in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, is the result of the national Anti-Robocall Litigation Task Force that began in 2022 as a way to “take legal action against telecommunications companies that perpetuate robocall traffic.”

The 141-page lawsuit claims that Avid Telecom has violated both federal and state laws. Defendant Michael D. Lansky is Avid Telecom’s Chief Executive Officer. His co-defendant is Stacey F. Reeves, Manager/ Vice President. Both are also being sued as individuals. Avid Telecom not only makes its own calls, but it also helps other companies make calls by routing them to “providers” throughout their network. The suit explains that Avid Telecom’s technology is “particularly attractive to scammers who place illegal robocalls because it allows them to efficiently place millions or billions of calls as they troll for vulnerable consumers who will fall victim to their financial or identity theft scams.”

There are 23 separate counts in the AG coalition’s suit. On the federal level, these include: violating the Telemarketing Act, by which the Federal Trade Commission enacts and enforces rules that prohibit abusive and deceptive telemarketing acts or practices; and violating the Truth in Caller ID Act that prohibits defrauding, causing harm of wrongfully obtaining anything of value in connection with any voice or text messaging service. There are also separate counts from California, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin.

.A press release from California Attorney General Rob Bonta gives two examples of the types of calls that prompted the lawsuit. One was from “Audrey,” who claimed to be a Social Security Disability Advisor. She said she was calling to help the call’s recipient claim disability benefits of up to $2,600 per month. Another was from “Ethan” at Medicare Rewards. He offered money as well and gave his callback number. Other scams include claims that “Your Social Security Number has been used for some kind of fraudulent activity in the South Border of Texas,” or the “Social Security Administration is filing a lawsuit against you. An arrest warrant has been released on your name.”

The calls are also used for product marketing such as the one that says, “Hi, this is Amy and I'm giving you a call from the Dealer Service Center. We recently noticed your car's extended warranty was going to expire and wanted to give you one final courtesy call before your warranty expires and your coverage

is voided. This would make you financially responsible for all service repairs. Press one now if you wish to extend or reinstate your car's warranty…” There are also employment request scams, Amazon account debit scams, and false DIRECTV discount promises. Nearly 25 other phony callers, including the New York Police Department and the Secret Service, were identified.

Bonta’s press release explains that he and his fellow AGs have been “laser focused on protecting consumers…and stopping unwanted robocalls” through this national and bipartisan lawsuit.

The complaint explains that the legal action is being taken under the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Protection Act (TSR) as well as a number of state laws that “protect consumers against unfair and deceptive trade practices. The AG coalition is seeking injunctive relief, civil penalties, restitution, statutory damages and attorneys’ fees. Under the law, the U.S. District Court for Arizona has jurisdiction. The Act authorizes Attorneys General to “…initiate federal district court proceedings to enjoin telemarking activities that violate the TSR.”

The lawsuit provides a short history of Avid Telecom’s illegal activities and notes that they have 329 notices from the USTelecom-led Industry Traceback Group (ITG), an industry watchdog group, which informed the company it was making illegal robocalls. It states that the company “has been on notice of illegal call traffic for many years.” ITG was established in 2015 as a “private collaborative industry group” that traces and identifies the sources of illegal robocalls.” The suit includes copies of several notices sent to Avid Telecom and members of its network that make it clear the defendants knew they were acting illegally. ITG was instrumental in assisting the AG coalition in identifying members of the company and proving they were on notice of their illegal activities for years.

Originally, the suit explains, Avid Telecom marketed itself as a “provider of dialing software” that conducts “voice dialing,” a term that describes their ability “to simultaneously initiate mass quantities of calls that deliver prerecorded or artificial voiced messages.” In subsequent years, it advertised how it could increase profits, help other companies manage their call centers, provide coverage across the United States and Canada, improve connectivity, and help them “reach their best audience.” It also claims that its professional staff’s expertise would help companies improve their business.

The suit acknowledges the long road that law enforcement has taken to the new lawsuit. It explains the difficulty in tracking calls that last for only about 15 seconds and use “caller spoofing” to hide their true identity. For example, they frequently rotate the numbers they call from to avoid detection.

But the coalition’s efforts ultimately proved successful in tracing more than 24.5 billion calls that were described on a state-by-state basis. A trial by jury was also demanded.

The road to resolution promises to be long and winding. But at the end, there could be a restful night’s sleep and some peace of mind for millions of people who are no longer confident that a real person is on the other end of the phone.

Maureen Rubin, J.D.
Maureen Rubin, J.D.
Maureen Rubin is an Emeritus Professor of Journalism at California State University where she taught media law and writing and served as an administrator. Previously, she worked in the Carter White House and U.S. Congress, She is a graduate of Catholic University Law School and holds a Master's from USC.
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