During a single week in July 2012, a robotic voice repeated the same message to American households more than 1.3 million times: “Hello. The FBI reports there is a home break-in every 15 seconds. Your local police recommend you protect your home. If you will allow us to place a small sign in your yard, we will install a new security system at absolutely no cost to you whatsoever.”
Of course, telemarketers and their prerecorded pleas to buy things are nothing new. But more than a million of those calls should never have been made in the first place, because they were placed to phone numbers listed on the federal Do Not Call Registry. And now the man who led the operation may need to pay up to $2.2 million to settle with the government.
The Federal Trade Commission — the consumer protection agency that manages the Do Not Call list — announced Thursday that it had settled a lawsuit against Justin Ramsey, the so-called “ringleader” of an operation that the commission says made millions of illegal robocalls to people across the country since 2012. While Ramsey and his company Prime Marketing technically owe the commission $2.2 million, it agreed to suspend part of that payment and allow Ramsey to just hand over $65,000. According to the terms of the settlement, which is now before a judge pending approval, he must pay the full $2.2 million if it turns out he lied about his finances.
With few exceptions, it’s illegal for telemarketers to call a phone number on the Do Not Call Registry. Yet Ramsey used websites like yellowpages.com and 411.com to find phone numbers and call them in an effort to sell home security systems, according to the lawsuit the commission filed against him and several other co-defendants in January. Ramsey admitted to one of those defendants that he’d intentionally called people on the registry, the lawsuit alleges. The other lawsuit’s defendants settled separately when the lawsuit was first filed.
In addition to home security systems, Ramsey’s many companies placed telemarketing calls for goods like auto warranties and vacation packages, according to the lawsuit.
This isn’t the first time Ramsey has been ordered to pay up for calling people on state do-not-call registries — he was also sued by both Indiana and Mississippi, though, according to the lawsuit, he was not impressed. “Ramsey admits that, when he received a document from the Mississippi Attorney General’s office, he threw it in the trash and did not read it,” the lawsuit reads.
According to the lawsuit, Ramsey also made his feelings about the Do Not Call list clear in a 2015 email to a business associate: “i [sic] HATE THE DNC,” he wrote, “ABSOLUTELY FU**ING [sic] HATE IT.”
In 2016, Americans received about 2.4 billion robocalls, the Federal Communications Commission estimated in a March report.