The Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission regularly bring actions against robocallers and Do Not Call violators in civil court, often with help from state authorities. Since 2003 the agencies have won more than $1.5 billion in penalties and restitution.

But only a small fraction of the money has been recovered, says Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst at Consumer Reports, because the culprits are difficult to track or the profits are spent.

Here are some of the FTC and FCC’s recent catches.

Malicious Spoofer: Adrian Abramovich

The pitch: The telemarketer pushed travel deals said to be from national brands, such as Marriott and TripAdvisor, only to switch the consumers to call centers that would try to sell Mexican timeshare packages, according to the FCC.

The scope of the scheme: The FCC found that the company spoofed more than 96 million robocalls in just three months. A medical paging company reported that the robocallers were disrupting its service, according to the FCC.

The judgment: The FCC imposed a $120 million penalty in 2018.

Credit Card Con Artists: All Us Marketing

The pitch: A web of companies and individuals, formerly operating under the name Payless Solutions, made illegal robocalls pitching a program to lower credit card interest rates.

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The scope of the scheme: The 18 defendants phoned thousands of consumers, including many seniors, claiming they would save at least $2,500 in credit card interest payments with the rate-reduction program. The consumers paid $300 to $4,999 up front but received no rate reductions, according to the FTC and the Florida state attorney general.

The judgment: In 2017 a court imposed a judgment of $4.9 million on the 12 defendants alleged to be most responsible for the scam. Smaller judgments were imposed on three other defendants. For most, the judgment was entirely or partially suspended based on inability to pay.

Relentless Robocaller: Justin Ramsey

The pitch: Led companies that blasted out millions of robocalls, often to consumers on the Do Not Call Registry, according to the FTC, offering home security systems and other products.

The scope of the scheme: Despite an ongoing investigation by the FTC, allegedly continued unlawful telemarketing through a new firm, making more than 800,000 calls to DNC numbers.

The judgment: Ordered to pay $2.2 million in 2017 to the FTC, suspended upon payment of $65,000, based on inability to pay. Banned from placing robocalls, as well as calling and selling lists of DNC numbers.


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Insurance Telemarketer: Philip Roesel

The pitch: Marketed health insurance allegedly by targeting vulnerable consumers, including the elderly, the infirm, and low-income people, according to the FCC.

The scope of the scheme: Using spoofed caller ID numbers, the FCC found that the company made more than 21.5 million robocalls in three months, averaging 200,000 per day.

The judgment: In 2018 the FCC imposed a forfeiture of $82 million on Roesel and his company.

California Scheming: Aaron Michael Jones

The pitch: A nine-person operation in California led by Jones engineered billions of illegal robocalls, offering extended auto warranties or search engine optimization services, according to the FTC. The operation also generated leads for other companies selling those goods and services, among others.

The scope of the scheme: The operation called phone numbers, including those on the DNC registry, at a rate of more than 100 million per year.

The judgment: Jones was ordered to pay $2.7 million to the FTC. He and the other defendants were banned from robocalling and abusive telemarketing activities; penalties totalling $9.9 million were imposed on the others, with all but $510,000 suspended because of inability to pay.

Robocall Ringleader: Kevin Guice

The pitch: Ran two telemarketing companies and 11 shell companies from a boiler room in Florida. Offered a credit card debt elimination service, charging between $2,500 and almost $26,000 up front.

The scope of the scheme: Raked in more than $23 million from more than 10,000 consumers, according to the FTC.

The judgment: Ordered to pay $23 million by a Florida federal court in 2018 for damages and restitution to defrauded consumers. Required to surrender personal property, including a 55-foot yacht, to a court-appointed receiver.

Tricky Travel Deals: Caribbean Cruise Line

The pitch: Hired a company that ran an allegedly illegal telemarketing campaign that promised consumers a free two-day Bahamas cruise if they answered a political survey. The calls were designed to push more costly products and services to customers, generating millions of dollars, according to the FTC.

The scope of the scheme: The operation made billions of robocalls that relied on ID spoofing, disguising the names that would appear on caller IDs, according to the FTC.

The judgment: Caribbean was fined $7.73 million in 2015, partially suspended after payment of $500,000. With other defendants, was banned from making robocalls and engaging in abusive telemarketing practices.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the May 2019 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.