Feds Bust the Mother of All Robocalling Rings

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If you were pestered by telemarketers any time between January 2008 and August 2009, there’s a good chance that at least some of the calls came from an operation that was just squashed by the Federal Trade Commission. The agency put out of business a huge operation that bombarded consumers with 2.6 billion robocalls over that time period, including one day in April 2009 when it blasted out 2.4 million calls — more than 27 per second.  In one fell swoop, the FTC eliminated the electronic “nervous system” that was responsible for those billions of calls with its judgement against SBN Peripherals, also known as Asia Pacific Telecom. In most cases, the agency busts one robocaller at a time, but “this defendant operated the dialer that placed the calls on behalf of dozens of telemarketing boiler rooms,” agency spokesman Frank Dorman said via email.

The robocaller tricked people’s caller IDs by having the phrase “sales department” show up on their phones and pretty much ignored the federal Do Not Call list. These calls prompted tens of thousands of complaints the FTC eventually traced back to SBN-operated telemarketers. Of the billions of calls the ring made, the FTC says nearly 13 million people were “connected to a sales agent,” which was a front for peddling phony credit card services and auto warranties, or promises of nonexistent free travel prizes.

(MORE: Feds Shutter Those Fake News Sites Plugging Bogus Weight Loss Products)

All those billions of calls were raking in big money for the crooks. In its final judgement, the FTC required the defendants to surrender $3 million in assets. “It’s among the largest recoveries we’ve ever obtained in a robocall case,” Dorman said.

This cache of assets literally spanned the globe and included more than $1 million stashed in a Hong Kong bank account, a lien on a house in the U.S., an ownership stake in an office building in Spain, undeveloped land, three cars and a recreational vehicle. The original settlement amount was for $5.3 million, but the defendants pled inability to pay the remaining $2.3 million. The judgment stipulates that if the defendants are lying and have money stashed in some other corner of the world, they’ll have to cough up the full $5.3 million immediately.

(MORE: FTC Thinks Your Privacy’s Under Attack, Too)

Think you’ve been on one of the receiving end of these calls? You probably have. The FTC says the robocaller used two standard greetings from “Stacey at Account Holder Services” or “Rachel at Cardholder Services.” If you didn’t hang up right away, you’ll know that the recording then jumped into a pitch to lower the consumer’s credit card interest rate — an entirely bogus promise.