FCC Proposes $45M Fine Against Robocall Company Using False Pandemic Claims

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed a $45 million fine against a robocall company that allegedly made prerecorded calls without consent, the agency announced on Friday.

The calls allegedly made false claims about the COVID-19 pandemic to spur people to buy health insurance, the FCC said. The fine is the largest ever proposed under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), according to the agency.

The TCPA, passed in 1991, places restrictions on certain telemarketing phone calls, text messages and facsimiles, as well as restricts the use of artificial or prerecorded voice messages and automatic dialing systems, according to the FCC.

In an apparent violation of the act, the Florida-based Interstate Brokers of America (IBA) allegedly made more than 500,000 unlawful robocalls without receiving prior consent from subscribers or having an emergency purpose to do so, an FCC press release said.

The alleged robocall campaign tried to sell health insurance under the guise "that the annual enrollment period had been reopened due to the coronavirus pandemic," the release said.

According to the FCC, one of the prerecorded messages stated: "Many states' opened enrollment options to combat the COVID-19 virus and our plans include telemedicine services that would allow you to see a doctor over the phone or a video that could treat common sickness like the cold and flu. Give me a call back, at our phone number...and I can go over what is still available in your area."

The FCC's Enforcement Bureau, which investigated the robocalls, reviewed a sample of 10,000 calls and subsequently received confirmation from the dialing platform provider that they contained pre-recorded messages. Investigators spoke to some people who received the calls to confirm that they had not consented to them, and also looked over some customer complaints, the release said.

The Federal Communications Commission has proposed a $45 million fine against a robocall company that made prerecorded calls without consent. Above, Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, speaks during an event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., on February 14, 2022. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

One consumer wrote online that someone named "Ashley" had left a message on their work cellphone, on which they said they don't conduct personal business, to announce "open enrollment for health care due to COVID-19," the release said.

The company allegedly bought lists of phone numbers from third-party vendors and obtained other numbers from consumers seeking health insurance quotes online "without clearly disclosing that, by providing contact information, the consumers would be subject to robocalls," the release said.

"The company left prerecorded voice messages marketing its clients' insurance plans. Voice recognition software would identify when a consumer answered the call. If a consumer responded by pressing a number on their phone, or by staying on hold, the system automatically transferred the call to a call center operated by Interstate Brokers. Consumers were then offered insurance products sold by one of several insurance companies that had hired Interstate Brokers," according to the release.

The proposed $45 million fine against the company was based off the verified calls. Gregory Robbins, who runs IBA, also lists himself on his LinkedIn page as the CEO of Century Health & Life.

Newsweek attempted to call the number listed for IBA for comment, but an automated message said it was a nonworking number.

In order for consumers to protect themselves against potential scam robocalls, the FCC recommends not answering calls from unknown numbers, hanging up and calling back a valid number from a company's site if the caller claims to be from a legitimate organization, and be wary of any caller who asks for payment using a gift card.

Update 2/18/22, 12:44 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional information and background.