Despite the efforts of the Federal Trade Commission, the nuisance of illegal robocalls from overseas continues to plague U.S. consumers. It is estimated that millions of these calls are made each month, bombarding both landlines and cell phones in equal measure. It is a sad fact that a significant proportion, if not the majority, of these illegal calls come from foreign shores. However, the FTC’s Project Point of No Entry (PoNE) may provide some relief to those who are sick of being constantly interrupted by fraudulent calls. By targeting gateway VoIP service providers, the FTC is sending a clear message that they are serious about clamping down on illegal robocalls and protecting consumers.
“Project Point of No Entry is yet another way the FTC is sending VoIP service providers the clear message that the Commission will not stand by as illegal robocalls blast American phones,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We will use all of our tools to stop companies that knowingly permit illegal calls to flood into the country.”
Project Point of No Entry
Through Project PoNE, the FTC is disrupting foreign-based scammers and imposters responsible for blasting U.S. consumers with annoying and unwanted calls. Through Project PoNE, the Commission: 1) identifies point of entry VoIP service providers that are routing or transmitting illegal call traffic, 2) demands they stop doing so and warns their conduct may violate the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and then 3) monitors them to pursue recalcitrant providers, including by opening law enforcement investigations and filing lawsuits when appropriate.
The FTC can seek civil penalties and court injunctions to stop TSR violations. It can also seek money to refund to consumers who were defrauded via illegal telemarketing calls. The FTC coordinates directly with the agency’s federal and state partners, which support the program and pursue their own actions to fight illegal telemarketing robocalls.
Results to date have shown that Project PoNE is having a significant impact in the fight to stop illegal calls.
Through the FTC’s enforcement efforts and its collaboration with partners, such as the Industry Traceback Group (ITG), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and state attorneys general, Project PoNE has uncovered the activity of 24 target point of entry service providers responsible for routing and transmitting illegal robocalls between 2021 and 2023, in connection with approximately 307 telemarketing campaigns, including government and business imposters, COVID-19 relief payment scams, and student loan debt relief and forgiveness schemes, among others. According to ITG, a single campaign often represents hundreds of thousands or millions of calls.
The FTC demanded that each of the target providers stop allowing illegal robocalls into the United States, warning of potential law enforcement action for illegal conduct. ITG traceback data show that after being contacted by Project PoNE staff, 22 of the 24 targets significantly curbed or altogether stopped the flow of illegal robocalls entering the country over their networks.
Designated by the FCC as the official traceback consortium, ITG uses its traceback process to seek out the source of suspicious traffic and shares information with law enforcement when appropriate. Each traceback represents a snapshot of any given campaign.
Before being contacted by the FTC, the targets had a combined total of 1,043 tracebacks. After being contacted and warned about their possibly illegal conduct, that number dropped to 196, illustrating Project PoNE’s effectiveness at stopping illegal robocalls before they could enter the country. Of the 196, 147 are linked to two uncooperative providers, one of which is subject to an FCC law enforcement action.
The FTC is making available to the public recordings of the robocalls that the targets have allowed into the country at Project Point of No Entry Letters. Making these recordings available is expected to help consumers identify and avoid the various scams delivered by illegal robocalls. The FTC’s East Central Region is spearheading Project PoNE.