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FTC Shuts Down Four Companies In Their Crackdown Against Illegal Robocalls

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FTC shuts down four companies for illegally robocalling billions of people

In an effort to end the terrifying epidemic of robocalls, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) shut down four separate operations that were responsible in bombarding American households and consumers with billions of unwanted and illegal robocalls.

The companies affected by FTC’s heightened crack down on illegal call spams and autodialing have agreed to settle charges that violated the FTC Act and the agency’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TST), including its Do Not Call (DNC) provisions. These corporations were responsible for pitching auto warranties, debt-relief services, home security systems, fake charities, and Google search results services.

In compliance to the court orders sent down last week, the FTC said that the said companies are now banned from robocalling and other telemarketing activities, including those using an auto dialer. They should also pay a significant grant amount that reaches up to $5.5 million.

One of the defendants in the case provided the software platform that enabled it to sent unwanted robocalls to billions of consumers through the duration of its existence. The FTC also charged another company whose operation includes calling millions of American under the pretense of several nonexistent charities and asking for donations to benefit veterans.

FTC and FCC are bad at fining robocallers

While the FTC claims that “fighting unwanted calls remains one of their highest priorities,” a recent report reveals that the agency along with the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has done a lousy job at collecting fines they issued to illegal robocallers.

A recent report made by Wall Street Journal, through an investigation, revealed that while the FCC has issued $208.4 million in fines against robocallers and auto dialers since 2015, less than 1% of the said value has been collected; an indication of FCC’s poor implementation of the regulations that are in place against robocallers.

The said amount in forfeiture orders includes a $120 million penalty issued on May 2018 against a robocaller that was accused of placing 96 million robocalls in three months to persuade and trick people into buying vacation packages.

Read More: FCC ONLY COLLECTED $6790 OUT OF $208.4 MILLION IN FINES IT ISSUED AGAINST ROBOCALLERS SINCE 2015

According to the report, only $6,790 of the total 200-million worth of fines was collected by the agency. On their defense, FCC said that the agency lacks the authority to enforce the forfeiture orders it issued and has passed all unpaid penalties for the Justice Department to act upon. It was also revealed that the FCC only punished small time robocallers and spoofers, which means that they are at times unable to pay the full penalties.

The Federal Trade Commission, on the other hand, was proud of collecting 8% of the fines the agency has issued in the last 15 years. Of the $1.5 billion worth of penalties since 2004, the agency, tasked in regulating trade and commerce, was only able to collect $121 million.

“The dearth of financial penalties collected by the US government for violations of telemarketing and auto-dialing rules shows the limits the sister regulators [FCC and FTC] face in putting a stop to illegal robocalls,” the report wrote. “It also shows why the threat of large fines can fail to deter bad actors.” Fines can be “a deterrent on legitimate companies that have real assets in the US,” but they aren’t as effective against scammers and overseas operators, an attorney quoted by the report said.

Telecom companies vow to end robocalls

With the apparent inaction from both the FCC and the FTC, many telecommunications giants are starting to take it into their own hands to end the robocall crisis in the country.

Major telecom giants like AT&T and Comcast are coming together in a move that would impact robocalls in the country. Both companies, through a joint press release, announced a cross-network authentication system to verify calls between separate providers. The companies will tap into an authentication technology called SHAKEN/STIR that will authenticate if the phone number on a user’s caller ID is the phone number that originated the call.

Read More: VERIZON JOINS AT&T AND COMCAST IN CURBING ROBOCALLS, OFFERS FREE ROBOCALL BLOCKER APP

A few days following the joint announcement of AT&T and Comcast, Verizon also announced to roll out a free app that blocks unverified robocallers. While the company already offers a paid robocall blocking app for $2.99 a month, the telecom giant announced that it would roll out a free feature later this month.

It is expected that Verizon will soon release the instructions on how to download and use the free app by the end of this coming weeks.

A consumer tech and cybersecurity journalist who does content marketing while daydreaming about having unlimited coffee for life and getting a pet llama.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Anthony Wilson

    April 3, 2019 at 5:26 pm

    This stop robocalls wars protecting consumers privacy wars mobile advertising wars all comes down to technology solutions innovation invention.That’s where 1998 invention of Caller ID Screener comes in at gives hard working consumers it’s want be able protect its own personal privacy on smartphones and gives advertisers there needs to advertising it services and products in palm of consumers hands protecting privacy.

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Cybersecurity

Boost Mobile Disclosed Credential Stuffing Attack Two Months Post-Breach

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Boost Mobile suffered from a credential stuffing attack but they only notified users two months after.

The rise of the internet has helped businesses in countless ways, especially in terms of communication. One of the innovations that have revolutionized industries and opened new opportunities to millions of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) is the VoIP or Voice over IP. The technology allows businesses to make and receive calls using the internet, which is practically a lot more inexpensive than traditional telephone lines.

However, as VoIP operates through the world wide web, technology is also vulnerable to cyber attacks. This is evidenced by what happened to Sprint-owned virtual mobile network operator Boost Mobile when they were targeted by a particular cyber attack.

The alarming part of what happened to Boost Mobile is that they failed to alert their users immediately after they found out that their data were breached. According to a recent “quiet” announcement, Boost Mobile suffered from a data breach two months ago that allowed hackers to access some user accounts.

“Boost.com experienced unauthorized online account activity in which an unauthorized person accessed your account through your Boost phone number and Boost.com PIN code,” said the notification. “The Boost Mobile fraud team discovered the incident and was able to implement a permanent solution to prevent similar unauthorized account activity.”

According to the notice posted on the Boost Mobile website, the said breach occurred on March 14th, 2019, but it seems that they only notified their customers and disclose information about the breach two months after they discovered the cyber attack. According to the notice, the breach resulted in several customer phone numbers and PIN codes being exposed.

No information was also disclosed regarding how many people are affected by the current breach. But the company notified California’s attorney general regarding the incident, means the number of victims could be more than 500.

Note: Legislations in California require businesses to inform the attorney general whenever a data breach affecting 500 or more people.

While the company kept mum on the number of victims, they, however, was able to confirm that the data breach was a consequence of a targeted attack.

“The Boost IT team identified unusual activity on a page of the Boost.com website, blocked access and not long after implemented a permanent solution,” said the spokesperson. “Customers’ credit card and social security numbers are encrypted and were not compromised.”

The notification also noted that the hackers used the phone numbers and PIN collected from the breach in accessing customer accounts in the Boost Mobile website. These codes can be used to alter account settings. Hackers can automate account logins using lists of exposed usernames and passwords — or in this case phone numbers and PIN codes — in what’s known as a credential stuffing attack.

Credential stuffing attacks have been designed by hackers to be completely automated, making use of extensive collections of stolen credentials bought from the black market to be able to brute force their entry to a computing system. Other several companies have been attacked by this type of modus operandi as well. Credential stuffing attacks have also infiltrated the networks of other popular brands such as TurboTax, Dunkin’ Donuts, Basecamp, and Dailymotion in the first quarter of 2019.

A similar incident also happened to the popular Japanese clothing brand UNIQLO, when a credential stuffing attack also compromised data of almost 500,000 customers. Nearly half a million accounts have been compromised as the internal server of the famous Japanese clothing brand, UNIQLO, has been breached, according to a notification sent out by the company today.

The announcement states that the UNIQLO Japan and GU Japan online stores have been hacked and third parties were able to gain access to 461,091 customer accounts following a credential stuffing attack on their servers.

According to the notification that the company sent out to the affected accounts, the credentials stuffing attack, which led to the data breach, took place between April 23rd and May 10th this year. However, the number of compromised account could be higher because the investigation is yet to be concluded.

“While the number of incidents and circumstances may change during the investigation, Fast Retailing is today providing notice of the facts as determined at present, and the company’s response,” says Fast Retailing.

Meanwhile, Boost Mobile said that they have already sent temporary PINs to affected customers via a text message. It is still unclear whether the two incidents were related or not.

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Our Voice

RingCentral VoIP Review

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We reviewed RingCentral's VoIP offers

VoIP has had a significant shift from a technology exclusively used by the early adopters or hobbyist to a widely adopted business form of communication. The industry expects an annual growth rate of 3.1% between 2019 to 2024 with a value ranging from 77.4 million USD in 2018 to 93.2 million USD by the end of 2024.

Undoubtedly, the business is exponentially growing at a breakneck pace, and VoIP providers are flocking in, offering packages that may or may not fit to what your business goals are. Hence, with our continued interest of unraveling the best VoIP provider, we are going to review key players in the industry and showcase opinions that will help businesses to determine solutions that work.

RingCentral Review

When it comes to the VoIP race, RingCentral is one of those providers that you won’t miss out not to mention. Aside from its flexible pricing offers, the company has established a solid foundation in catering the communication needs of small-time businesses and large enterprises.

RingCentral was founded back in 1999 by Vlad Shmunis, and since then, the cloud-based company introduced new ways to connect and collaborate remotely. For almost 20 years of providing VoIP services, RingCentral has significantly banked on its easy VoIP setup, competitive prices, and cloud-based management system. In a sense, the VoIP provider established itself as one of the big names in the VoIP market.

Pricing

RingCentral Pricing Offers

As previously mentioned, RingCentral offers versatile and relatively competitive price packages. RingCentral starts things off with their Essential Plan that costs $19.99/month, which is suitable for small-time businesses with less than ten employees. The package supports up to 10 users with a four-person limit on its audio and video meeting feature.

The Essential Plan unlocks RingCentral 24/7 customer support lines and offers unlimited phone calling, 100 toll-free minutes, customer management and phone service administration, and other basic features necessary for small-time businesses.

The next tier that RingCentral offers is the Standard Plan which costs $24.99/month. The $5 difference from its Essential package provides businesses with a little more space to work with, especially with its zero-limit on the number of users. However, video and audio conferencing are still limited to four people at a time.

The RingCentral Standard Plan doesn’t have much of a difference from its Essential plan, aside from getting 1,000 toll-free minutes per month. Further, the package credits you the same basic feature with a multi-level auto attendant that works as a virtual receptionist for routing calls to the right department. The Standard Plan also credits you internet fax and call log support that will come in handy during end-of-the-month business reporting.

If you think the previous offerings are small enough to fit your business needs, RingCentral has a Premium plan that costs $34.99/month. The package poses a vast amount of support for your business such as multi-site support, custom app development and deployment, and SalesForce, Zendesk, and Desk integration. The RingCentral Premium pushes the audio and video meeting limit to 100 people with toll-free minutes of up to 2,500/month. You’ll also get Voicemail Transcription to Text support which converts voicemails to text for easy documentation.

The last tier that RingCentral offers is the Ultimate Plan for $49.99/month. The package provides the same amount of support as the Premium but boosts the number of minutes to 10,000 and the audio/video meeting bandwidth to 200 people.

How It Works?

Before starting things off with RingCentral, the first thing you need to know is if the service or the package fits your business goals. If the answer is yes, then there are two ways in installing RingCentral; its either you use your existing phones, or you purchase new equipment from RingCentral themselves.

If you opt to use your current desk phones, installing RingCentral is as easy as plug and play. Just plug your phones and computers to the internet jacks and install the RingCentral app to your employees’ smartphones. After installation, you’ll get to enjoy all the features based on the RingCentral package you opt to choose. And, since RingCentral is cloud-based, you can use its dedicated app for all your voice calls, faxing, audio/video conferencing needs.

With RingCentral’s plethora of features, you don’t have to rely on your traditional phone lines to handle all your business communication requirements. You’ll get competitive management support, technology-forward IVRs, relaxing hold music, call management, and other basic features put in place so that you’ll never miss a call again.

Comparison and Contrast

RingCentral is indeed one of the top tier VoIP providers in the market today. Its call management feature that enables businesses to customize their ways of communicating is one the best qualifier for RingCentral. You’ll get call forwarding on the go with easy deployment based on your business or department’s answering rules. You can easily configure automatic call recording and convert them to text for easy documentation. You’ll also enjoy auto attendant, a feature that directs calls on the right department, to ensure that all requests go to the right person and provide solutions at first touch.

However, comparing RingCentral to other VoIP providers, there are noticeable differences that one cannot just disregard. Let’s use Nextiva for example. Nextiva is also one to the leading VoIP players today, and statistically speaking, Nextiva is a highly-acclaimed cloud-based software provider with 99.99% reliability rate across NYC to Seattle.

Nextiva Pricing Table

Nextiva’s VoIP plans provide consumers more flexibility at a more cheaper rate. For $20, Nextiva’s Basic Plan equates to RingCentral’s Standard Plan with more added features. You’ll get additional support such as Advance Call Management and number porting for free.

Nextiva’s Pro Plan steps the notch even higher. You’ll get a customized greeting feature that works significantly in building your brand. Furthermore, you’ll receive Text Messaging support that enables you to connect with your team and customers at your own pace and desire. Limitation towards the number of people allowed for conferencing is not much of a concern within Nextiva’s VoIP packages. In a sense, you’ll get more added support at a price relatively cheaper than what you get from RingCentral.

When setting up Nextiva, you can opt for Nextiva’s professional installers to set up your VoIP lines for free. Through this installation method, you’ll get to work with Nextiva on how you want to customize your VoIP solution. This method also eliminates common installation failure. But, with regards to the accessibility of installing Nextiva’s VoIP, you’ll get the same amount of convenience RingCentral offers.

The Verdict

RingCentral is, without a doubt, a competitive VoIP provider. However, the limitations on specific price plans are very concerning. Its Essential Plan lacks mobility and essential features like auto attendant and automatic call recording that are necessary for today’s business needs; unless you pay $15 more to employ such elements.

While, if you compare it to companies like Nextiva, who are offering relatively the same or more amount of features on its basic plan, it enables businesses to manage communications with more flexibility without paying more than it should be. And, with today’s competitive market, getting extra elements at a price lesser than the other, is a motivational factor to choose Nextiva aside from RingCentral.

More importantly, in choosing your cloud-based solution, you should understand what your business goals are, and see if the provider offer such features. Don’t just settle with prices, and pick a solution that enables you to manage your calls and business needs on a much broader scale.

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VoIP

Lawmakers Are Fed Up With Robocalls And They Want An End ASAP

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New laws being deliberated and proposed to curb the robocall problem.

The problem of the ballooning cases of robocalls in the United States is so undeniable that legislators are on haste to pass a new law that would potentially put an end to the annoying nuisance of unwanted and spoofed calls that are targeting them, their family, and their constituents.

Fed up the bugging concern over robocalling and other VoIP scams, lawmakers have launched a bipartisan broadside against robocalls. The new legislation introduced by Senator Hohn Thune, R-S.D., would ramp up penalties for violators, put more onus on major telecom and cell service provider to address the problem and do a better job of authenticating calls, and offer ways to block neighborhood “spoofers” and other modus operandi. Neighborhood spoofing happens when scammers are tricking a caller ID into believing that a call is coming from a local area code, inducing validity to the call.

“I think that I’m like everybody else that has cellphones and is constantly, constantly interrupted by these nuisance calls,” Sen. John Thune said in an interview.

Both the House and the Senate are working hard to hasten the passing of the different legislative efforts to stop the notoriety of robocalls in the United States. They recognize that there should be a more heightened crackdown on a problem that grew significantly higher in recent years.

According to Hiya, a Seattle-based software company, a total of 26.3 billion robocalls were received by Americans in 2018, a 46 percent increase from the only 18 billion in 2017. Furthermore, complaints regarding robocalls and call spamming is the most common complaint received by both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In 2018 alone, the FTC has received more than 3.7 million complaints relating to robocalls and other telecom scams while the FCC received 232,000 complaints on unwanted phone calls that include robocalls and telemarketing calls.

A few months ago, major telecom players in the United States joined forces to curb the robocall problem in the country. AT&T, together with Verizon and Comcast is set to launch a new technology that would allow users to screen and validate the phone calls that they receive. Reportedly, the companies will tap into an authentication technology called SHAKEN/STIR that will authenticate if the phone number on a user’s caller ID is the phone number that originated the call.

Nonetheless, technology has been very friendly to robocallers as there are systems now that allowed them to target thousands of consumers in an hour with minimal effort. Basically, as critics suggest, it will only render the Do Not Call Registry (DNC) somewhat moot. However, FTC said that the list “still works well for the same job it was intended to do,” but that it doesn’t deter “criminals or fraudsters.”

The TRACED Act, as submitted and authored by Sen. Thune, was unanimously approved by the Senate Commerce Committee last month and as it was back by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, there is a very hopeful chance that it would push the major telecom companies to authenticate calls better, so consumers know where those calls are coming from.

Meanwhile, another set of legislation is being deliberated in the House Energy and Commerce Committee led by Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J. The law that the lawmaker introduced would close the legal loopholes that robocallers exploit and at the same time prompt telecom companies to provide blocking services against call “spoofers” free of charge.

“I hear from my constituents in New Jersey all the time about how fed up they are with robocalls,” Pallone said. “It is incredibly annoying to repeatedly get unwanted calls from people you don’t know and don’t want to talk to.”

“[The robocall problem] “has gotten so bad that you can watch videos of people getting robocalls while they’re in the middle of making a video complaining about robocalls,” chimed in by Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa.

Nonetheless, the mere existence of robocalls isn’t what legislators are after for. Thune said that his focus is those scam artists who try to get people to send money to fraudulent causes.

“And at the same time, hopefully we’ll get rid of a lot of the annoying and nuisance type calls that everybody gets on their cellphone,” he continued, noting that complaints about those calls “became one of the most [frequent] calls into our office and things you would hear people talking about in conversation.”

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