Florida-based Travel Club Marketing was hit with the largest automated-calling fine in Federal Communications Commission (FCC) history on Tuesday for making at least 185 unsolicited calls without customer consent, including 142 households on the National Do-Not-Call Registry. The fine of $2.96 million, reported by the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, is the largest fine the agency has ever levied for the activity of “robocalling,” which has been rendered illegal in most cases. Last year, the FCC issued a $2.90 million fine to a company called Dialing Services for making unauthorized campaign robocalls during the 2012 election season. Travel Club Marketing made the calls to both landline and wireless phones, offering travel deals and time share packages. In its forfeiture order, the FCC writes, “These consumers never agreed to receive advertisements from the Travel Club Parties, never did any business with these entities, and, in fact, overwhelmingly sought to prevent such unwanted telephone solicitations by placing their telephone numbers on the National Do-Not-Call Registry.”
The FCC has taken a stronger stance against automated callers in addition to establishing the registry several years ago. Last month the agency approved new rules to give consumers the legal right to prevent unwanted calls as well as give telecoms legal authority to use strengthened automated call blocking software. Under the provisions, marketers must obtain prior express consent in order to call consumers. The FCC’s rule changes came after dozens of petitions urging the agency to clarify the rules involving robocall prevention. Last month’s announcement relieved the concerns of many in the telecommunications industry that implementing more advanced call-blocking technology would lead to the threat of legal challenges from marketers. In addition to strengthening its posture toward unwarranted marketing calls, the FCC is also conducting a workshop on “spoofing” September 16th. Spoofers are callers who pretend to sell a product or service, but are instead fishing for identifying information either for their own use or to sell to identity thieves.
The FCC’s Chief Enforcement Officer Travis Leblanc served warning regarding the agency’s increased effort, saying in a statement, “It is unacceptable to invade consumers’ privacy by bombarding them with unwanted and intrusive robocalls. All companies, and their owners, who thwart the Do-Not-Call list should expect to face severe consequences.” In addition to the Travel Club Marketing moniker, the agency also fined the company doing business under the names: Diamond Vacations, Great Vacations, Travellink Corp., Proven Results Direct Marketing Inc., and Direct Marketing Travel Services Incorporated. The FCC also fined the owner of the company, Olen Miller of Tampa. The FCC first adopted the notice of forfeiture against Miller in 2011, when some exceptions existed for telemarketers conducting robocalls with customers who had a previous business relationship with the marketer. The consumers involved in this particular complaint, however, did not have previous dealings with any of Miller’s companies.
Consumerist – Chris Morran
The Hill – Mario Trujillo
The Verge – Jacob Kastrenakes