U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing on Wednesday, April 18, 2018, at 10:00 a.m. entitled, “Abusive Robocalls and How We Can Stop Them.” The hearing will examine the problem of malicious spoofing and abusive robocalls designed to defraud consumers, as well as measures being taken by government and industry to protect consumers.
“Abusive robocalls are persistently annoying and at worst they are a means for significant fraud and theft,” said Thune. “Our hearing will examine where such robocalls come from, how they work, and what steps can be taken to identify and deter them from happening.”
- Ms. Lois Greisman, Associate Director, Marketing Practices Division, Bureau of Consumer Protection, Federal Trade Commission
- Ms. Rosemary Harold, Chief, Enforcement Bureau, Federal Communications Commission
- Mr. Adrian Abramovich, former President of Marketing Strategy Leaders (dissolved 1/29/2016)
- Mr. Scott Delacourt, Partner, Wiley Rein LLP and U.S. Chamber of Commerce representative
- Mr. Kevin Rupy, Vice President, Law and Policy, United States Telecom Association
- Ms. Margot Saunders, Senior Counsel, National Consumer Law Center
Wednesday, April 18, 2018
This hearing will take place in Russell Senate Office Building, Room 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
Chairman John Thune
Good morning. In the United States Senate, we often have heated disagreements over important issues facing our country.
Even in the Commerce Committee, which has a longstanding tradition of reaching bipartisan compromise when possible, we don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to contentious issues.
But today, we’re here to address an issue that I’m sure we can all agree on: unwanted, abusive, and illegal robocalls have got to stop.
Unsolicited robocalls consistently rank among the top consumer complaints to the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission.
Beyond just being annoying, many of those who send out unwanted robocalls do so with the intent to defraud consumers.
As more phone systems move from copper wires to the internet, it has become easier and cheaper for bad actors to make illegal robocalls from anywhere in the world.
These new technologies have also made it easier for scammers to hide from law enforcement and seek to gain their victims’ trust by displaying fake caller ID information.
Known as “spoofing,” this technique allows a fraudulent call to show up on recipients’ caller ID as a number within their area code, or even with many of the same digits as their own phone number – making it appear like a trustworthy local number.
I’m sure that many of us, as well as many of our constituents, have experienced this phenomenon.
The goal of scammers using spoofed robocalls is often to get money out of unsuspecting recipients, and some of their methods can be particularly malicious. For instance, given that yesterday was tax day, one common scam, especially at this time of year, is the “IRS scam.” This scam involves the caller pretending to represent the IRS in order to scare the victim into providing money or personal information to avoid phony tax penalties.
But perhaps the biggest negative effect of the increasing prevalence of unwanted robocalls is that they frustrate recipients to the point that they are less likely to answer legitimate calls.
It’s important to remember that robocalls are not inherently negative. Many important services are carried out via robocall where companies and call recipients have pre-established relationships and where the consumer has agreed to participate in these types of calls.
Indeed, some entities, like hospitals and pharmacies, use robocalls to remind a patient of an upcoming appointment or that a prescription is ready for pick-up. In addition, automakers often use robocalls to warn vehicle owners of urgent safety recalls. Missing calls like these can have life or death consequences for recipients.
Today we have the opportunity to hear from enforcement officials responsible for combatting illegal robocallers and from industry representatives who can speak to new methods for preventing consumers from receiving unwanted calls in the first place.
We also have the opportunity to hear from Mr. Adrian Abramovich who, according to the FCC, allegedly made almost 100 million robocalls in a three-month period in 2016.
On October 10, 2017, the Committee sent Mr. Abramovich a letter of inquiry regarding the FCC’s notice of apparent liability, asking several questions about his conduct. On November 3, 2017, through his counsel, Mr. Abramovich informed the Committee that he would not be providing information in response to the Committee’s inquiry.
This past March, I invited Mr. Abramovich to appear voluntarily at today’s hearing, but, through his counsel, he declined.
In light of Mr. Abramovich’s decision to decline the Committee’s invitation, and refusal to provide information in response to the Committee’s inquiry, a subpoena requiring Mr. Abramovich’s appearance before the Committee was issued.
Mr. Abramovich, your participation at today’s hearing is important. According to the FCC, you allegedly made nearly 100 million robocalls to American consumers purporting to be a well-known travel or hospitality company such as TripAdvisor, Expedia, Marriott, or Hilton. If a robocall recipient answered and pressed “1” for more information, the consumer would be directed to a Mexican hotel and resort chain engaged in selling timeshares and vacation packages that had contracted with you, Mr. Abramovich, to receive calls generated by your network.
Mr. Abramovich, I expect that today you will shed some light on your past conduct and provide the Committee with your unique perspective on the technologies and practices behind abusive robocalls. With this information, and that of the second panel, the Committee should better understand this problem and what steps might be necessary to end this abusive practice.
Finally, before I turn to Ranking Member Nelson, I would just note that the recently enacted Omnibus Appropriations bill included Committee-approved legislation he sponsored with Senators Fischer, Klobuchar, Blunt, and Duckworth, to empower the FCC to combat spoofing originating from international locations. We’ll be eager to hear how that new law will be implemented, and what more needs to be done.
I now turn to Ranking Member Nelson for his opening remarks.
Witness Panel 1
Ms. Lois GreismanAssociate DirectorMarketing Practices Division, Bureau of Consumer Protection, Federal Trade Commission
Ms. Rosemary HaroldChiefEnforcement Bureau, Federal Communications Commission
Mr. Adrian Abramovichformer PresidentMarketing Strategy Leaders (dissolved 1/29/2016)
Mr. Scott DelacourtPartnerWiley Rein LLP and U.S. Chamber of Commerce representative
Mr. Kevin RupyVice President of Law and PolicyUnited States Telecom Association
Ms. Margot SaundersSenior CounselNational Consumer Law Center