May 26, 2018
“I AM not the kingpin of robocalling that is alleged.” So Adrian Abramovich, a telemarketer from Florida, assured American senators in April. Accused of making nearly 100m illegal “robocalls” in 2016 as part of a campaign to sell discounted holidays, Mr Abramovich has denied criminal wrongdoing. Nonetheless, on May 10th the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), America’s telecoms regulator, fined him $120m, the largest penalty in the agency’s history.
The skirmish over Mr Abramovich is part of America’s long, mostly unsuccessful war against robocalls, the pre-recorded phone messages peddling debt-reduction and timeshares that have irritated consumers for over a decade. According to YouMail, a call-blocking service, 3.4bn robocalls were blasted out in April, equivalent to nearly 1,300 every second. The Federal Trade Commission receives 500,000 complaints about such calls every month (see chart). Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman, says Americans are “mad as hell”. Robocalls are consistently the agency’s top consumer complaint. Can anything be done?..