A Rogues’ Gallery of Robocallers

The FTC and the FCC regularly bring actions against robocallers and Do Not Call violators in civil court, often with help from state authorities. Consumer Reports highlights some catches by the agencies.

By Octavio Blanco

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 because the culprits are difficult to track or the profits are spent.

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

Deceptive Health Claims: Jason and Eunjung Cardiff

The pitch: The Cardiffs, doing business as Redwood Scientific Technologies, which sold dissolvable oral film strips as effective smoking cessation, weight-loss, and sexual-performance aids. The Cardiffs also signed up consumers to participate in a pyramid scheme to sell the products, according to the FTC.

The scope of the scheme: Consumers were contacted through robocalls and were enrolled in a program in which they were automatically billed and shipped products without giving their consent. The FTC says consumers lost $18.2 million due to the deceptive marketing.

The judgment: In 2022 a federal district court in California banned the Cardiffs and their companies from selling dissolvable oral film strips directly to consumers, engaging in multi-level marketing from making robocalls, and from using negative-option marketing, where sellers interpret a customer’s failure to reject an offer or cancel an agreement as agreeing to be charged for goods or services. The court also imposed severe restrictions on the Cardiffs’ future conduct, according to the FTC.

“Despite the fact the FTC presented evidence that consumers lost millions due to the deceptive marketing, the court declined to order any compensation because of a recent Supreme Court ruling in the case of AMG v. FTC, which undercuts the agency’s authority to obtain such consumer redress,” according to the regulator.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Fraudulent: 8 Figure Dream Lifestyle

The pitch: According to the FTC, 8 Figure Dream Lifestyle claimed that consumers with no prior skills or experience who bought their “franchise-like product” would earn $5,000 to $10,000 in 10 to 14 days, and earn $10,000 or more on a consistent basis within 60 to 90 days of buying into the program.

The scope of the scheme: The company made millions of robocalls to consumers, and the majority of those who joined 8 Figure Dream Lifestyle—at a cost of $2,395 to $22,495—never earned substantial income. Instead, many lost their money and incurred significant loans and credit-card debt, according to the FTC.

The judgment: Under the terms of the 2020 settlement agreement, the FTC says nine of the defendants affiliated with the company were banned from using robocalls for most purposes, including marketing or advertising. In addition, three defendants are prohibited from selling any investment opportunities.

The monetary judgments, totaling more than $32 million, are partially suspended based on the defendants’ inability to pay. The defendants have surrendered assets totaling more than $1.25 million to the Commission.

In 2021 the Federal Trade Commission announced it was returning more than $1.1 million to consumers who paid for these products.

Grand Bahama Cruise Ruse: Johnathan Blake Curtis and Anthony DiGiacomo

The pitch: Curtis and DiGiacomo, and the companies they controlled, made millions of calls to consumers nationwide, pitching free cruises between Florida and the Bahamas, according to the FTC.

The scope of the scheme: Starting in 2013, they flooded U.S. phones pitching “free” Caribbean cruises. The two were part of the Caribbean Cruise Line (CCL) scheme (mentioned below) in which a company they owned made calls on CCL’s behalf. They weren’t named when the original CCL settlement was announced in 2015.

Meanwhile, the duo also formed their own companies, Royal Bahama and Grand Bahama Cruise Lines (GBCL), which employed outside call centers and third-party lead generators to make billions of calls to consumers also pitching “free” Caribbean cruises—including calls to numbers on the Do Not Call Registry.

After answering questions unrelated to cruises, a prerecorded message informed consumers they were entitled to “two free boarding passes for an all-inclusive cruise to the Bahamas,” which would cost $59 per person in port taxes. Consumers who confirmed interest in the offer either received a subsequent call within 24 hours or were immediately transferred to a telemarketer at a call center working on behalf of Royal Bahama and GBCL. Although consumers received a nominally free 2-day cruise, paying for the federal port taxes and fees, telemarketers would aggressively up-sell consumers to purchase more expensive packages, such as hotels, rental cars, extended stays, and additional excursions, that could result in significant additional charges to consumers, according to the FTC.

The judgment: In 2021 Curtis and DiGiacomo were each ordered to pay a $50,000 civil penalty to the U.S. Treasury, according to the FTC. The court order also imposed a $6.4 million civil penalty against the individual and corporate defendants, which would be partially suspended once Curtis and DiGiacomo both pay the Treasury, according to the FTC.

Phantom Debt Collectors: Jean Cellent

The pitch: National Landmark Logistics, LLC; National Landmark Service of UnitedRecovery, LLC; Silverlake Landmark Recovery Group, LLC; and Jean Cellent used robocalls to leave deceptive messages claiming consumers faced imminent legal action—lawsuits or even arrest—for unpaid debts, according to the FTC.

The scope of the scheme: When consumers returned the calls, the defendants falsely claimed to be from a mediation or law firm, again threatened legal action, and used consumers’ personal information to convince consumers the threats were real. The defendants then turned around and pocketed the money despite the fact that in many instances consumers didn’t owe the debt or that the defendants had no right to collect it, the FTC says.

The judgment: In 2021 the defendants were permanently banned from debt collection of any kind. The defendants were required to surrender the contents of numerous bank and investment accounts, as well as the title to property located in Philadelphia and a Mercedes SL 550 or the cash value of those assets. The settlement also included a monetary judgment of $12,098,760, which was partially suspended due to an inability to pay, according to the FTC.

Septic Tank Callers: Joseph, Sean, and Raymond Carney

The pitch: Telemarketers falsely told consumers they were calling from an unnamed “environmental company” to give consumers “free info” on their septic tank cleaning product.

The scope of the scheme: According to the FTC, the Carney brothers initiated more than 45 million illegal telemarketing calls to consumers nationwide between January 2018 and March 2019 on behalf of their company, Environmental Safety International, Inc., to promote ESI’s “Activator 1000” line of septic tank cleaning products. Despite being told the robocalls were “not a sales call or solicitation,” consumers who “pressed one” to receive free information received a sales pitch. The FTC alleges that 31 million of those calls were made to numbers on the DNC Registry. Regulators didn’t accuse ESI of not delivering the products which consumers purchased. But ESI customers who agreed to buy the product and had unpaid invoices got letters from ESI falsely claiming that they would be referred to a “national collection agency” or to an attorney. However, ESI never took either of these actions, according to the FTC.

The judgment: In addition to the bans on telemarketing, the settlement orders impose $10.2 million civil penalty against all defendants, which would be partially suspended after Joseph and Sean Carney pay $1,646,210 and Raymond Carney pays $15,000 to the Treasury.

Work-From-Home Scam: Randon Morris

The pitch: Randon Morris and a number of companies he controlled initiated millions of robocalls nationwide to promote sham work-from-home business opportunities, according to the FTC.

The scope of the scheme: Focusing on consumers concerned about working outside their homes because of the coronavirus pandemic, the FTC says Morris, who falsely claimed to be affiliated with Amazon, lured victims into purchasing their affiliate marketing programs with false promises to earn hundreds of dollars a day by selling and promoting products from home.

The judgment: In 2021 a federal district court in Utah ordered that Morris, National Web Design, LLC, B2B Website Design, LLC, Amazon Affiliate Program, LLC, and R&C Consultation, LLC will be banned from pitching business opportunities or work-at-home schemes, as well as from any involvement with robocalls.

They were required to surrender the contents of a bank account and the reserves held in two merchant accounts to the FTC. The settlement also included a monetary judgment of more than $2 million, which was partially suspended due to an inability to pay. If the defendants are found to have misrepresented their financial status, the full amount of the judgment would become immediately payable.

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 used ID spoofing, disguising the names that would appear on caller IDs to make 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. The callers claimed that their credit card interest rate reduction program would save consumers at least $2,500 in a short period of time and would enable them to pay off their debts more quickly. After convincing consumers to provide their credit card information, the defendants charged them between $300 and $4,999 up front, but provided nothing in return, according to the FTC.

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: Ramsey 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.

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 totaling $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: Guice 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 spoofing, 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.

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