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DOJ going after telecom companies for assisting robocall scams

DOJ going after telecom companies for assisting robocall scams


The companies that provide networks for robocalls may be held accountable

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A phone screen showing an incoming robocall
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

The Department of Justice is taking a new approach to robocalls, seeking approval to hold telecommunications companies responsible for calls on their networks instead of just going after the often-overseas criminals who actually do the dialing.

The companies identified by the DOJ allowed two groups with ties to India and US offices in Arizona and New York to make hundreds of millions of calls per month, according to Jody Hunt of the DOJ’s civil division. The companies are, SIP Retail, and their owners, Nicholas Palumbo and Natasha Palumbo in Scottsdale, Arizona; and Global Voicecom Inc., Global Telecommunication Services Inc., KAT Telecom Inc. and owner Jon Kahen of Great Neck, New York.

The Justice Department is seeking a court order to halt the transmission of robocalls on the companies’ networks. The telecom companies act as gateways for the robocallers, using voice-over-IP calling to pass the fraudulent calls into the US telecommunications network, the DOJ said. This allows scammers to spoof numbers and try to trick call recipients in the US into thinking they owed a fine that they had to pay, for instance.

Robocalls have overwhelmed phone networks in recent years, particularly in America, sending regulators and law enforcement looking for new ways to fight the spam. Experts estimate that 48 billion robocalls were placed in the US in 2018, a 46 percent uptick from the year before.

Earlier this month, a new federal anti-robocall law went into effect, which gives the government new tools to combat the problem, including fines of up to $10,000 per call and requirements that major carriers like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile use technology to let customers see whether a call is coming from a spoofed number.