The people responsible for millions of unwanted and illegal robocalls are laying low and getting rich in Florida, 25 Investigates uncovered.
Investigative Reporter Eric Rasmussen followed a trail of lawsuits, complaints and federal fines from Boston to South Florida, where he found some of these robocallers operating – and even discovered a new call center operated by one man the feds have banned from making robocalls.
"It wasn't malicious. I didn't intentionally try to harm people," Justin Ramsey, who has been labeled a "recidivist robocaller" by the Federal Trade Commission, told 25 Investigates.
Ramsey, the prime target in a recent crackdown by the feds for blasting robocalls to more than 70 million phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry, was “permanently banned from robocalling,” according to a settlement the FTC announced in April.
But 25 Investigates tracked down Ramsey and his new telemarketing business hidden away in a Boca Raton, Florida office park – another backroom boiler room filled with people working the phones.
Ramsey insisted his new company – Pointbreak Media LLC – isn’t making robocalls, but 25 Investigates uncovered a recent federal lawsuit naming Ramsey and his new business.
An annoyed consumer from Arizona recently sued Ramsey and Pointbreak Media for making robocalls to his cell phone. Ramsey denied making the calls to 25 Investigates but still paid to settle out of court in August.
Feds fight more Florida robocallers
FTC attorney Will Maxon wouldn’t comment directly on any past or current cases involving Ramsey, but he told 25 Investigates he has filed complaints against robocallers in a number of states, including Florida, Utah, California and Arizona.
This year, the FTC filed more than half of its cases against robocallers in Florida.
Maxon, who has been at the scene of several FTC boiler room raids, said clusters of robocalling businesses may pop up after one shop provides the training for the illegal telemarketing trade.
“The people that might work at (one) boiler room or that telemarketing outfit will learn how that industry works,” said Maxon. “If the FTC goes in and shuts it down – or some other law enforcement shuts it down – you then have a lot of employees who’ve learned how that business works and they might be more prone to set up copycat shops around the geographic area where the original shop had been operating.”
The Federal Trade Commission has taken nearly 250 robocallers to court since 2009, but the illegal operations just keep popping up.
Maxon said his robocall investigations sometimes lead him to repeat offenders – like Justin Ramsey – who have been previously cited for robocalling by the FTC, state attorneys general or other federal agencies.
But Ramsey is hardly the only robocaller on the government’s radar.
Massachusetts company helps expose robocaller
Another federal agency – the Federal Communications Commission – closed its biggest case yet against an entirely different Florida robocaller earlier this year after Needham-based TripAdvisor opened its own investigation to find out who was making robocalls impersonating the popular online travel site.
Robocallers weren’t just impersonating TripAdvisor, they were also pretending to be American Express, Marriott and Priceline. Listen to some of the calls below.
The fake calls – advertising a free TripAdvisor vacation – prompted a flurry of complaints from angry consumers, including one who the FCC said wrote, “I WILL OPEN THE GATES OF HELL ON TRIP ADVISORS. NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER CALL ME LIKE THAT AGAIN. EVER. GOT IT.”
TripAdvisor’s lead investigator, who asked not to be identified, spoke with 25 Investigates publicly for the first time about how he helped in the federal investigation that ultimately identified the man behind the calls as Adrian Abramovich, a Miami-based prolific robocaller.
“The numbers were just being automatically generated and if someone answered, they knew they had a live person,” said TripAdvisor’s investigator.
Here’s what TripAdvisor’s investigator discovered: If you got a robocall in Boston, it was actually coming from Miami – and the company owned by Abramovich.
The robocalls would impersonate legitimate companies, such as TripAdvisor, Marriott, American Express and Priceline. If you pressed “1” to accept the recorded offer, you were connected to a live person in Mexico who tried to sell you a vacation package that had nothing to do with TripAdvisor or the other companies.
Each robocall costs a fraction of a penny to make, so robocallers only need a few people to sign up for the offers in order to turn a big profit.
Armed with the TripAdvisor investigator’s findings, the FCC found Abramovich made nearly 100 million robocalls in just three months. The agency has proposed a 120 million fine against Abramovich – the largest ever fine in FCC history.
25 Investigates searched for Abramovich all over Miami – at business address spread across the city and outside his swanky gated community in Coconut Grove, where Abramovich owns a million-dollar home. But so far, Abramovich hasn’t responded to requests to speak with him.
Abramovich’s lawyer, Rodolfo Nuñez, later emailed 25 Investigates, writing, “The FCC’s proposed penalty is subject to reduction or cancellation and not yet final. Mr. Abramovich will have no further comment at this time.”
Help stop robocalls
To help fight robocalls, the FTC urges consumers to take notes when you receive a robocall and share details, including the number, time of the call and subject of the recording, online here.
The agency said those details help the FTC pick their next targets for robocall investigations.