If it seems like a gigantic game of Whac-a-Mole, that's probably because it is. The Federal Trade Commission announced today that it had permanently eliminated a significant source of illegal and annoying robocalls pitching things like credit-card interest reductions, extended automobile warranties, and home security systems
The FTC announced a settlement in which Roy M. Cox Jr. agreed to a $1.1 million fine - suspended, for now, on the grounds that he is too broke to pay - and a permanent ban from the telemarketing industry.
When it first moved against Cox in December 2011, the FTC's lawsuit described him as a resident of Santa Ana, Calif., and the owner of a network of foreign-based corporations purportedly operating in countries such as Panama, Hungary, Argentina, and the Republic of Seychelles. Today's announcement says the FTC and Department of Justice have asked the court to dismiss five of Cox’s co-defendants who could not be served or are defunct. Its says the government will seek a default judgment against the fifth company: a Nevada corporation, Castle Rock Capital Management Inc., that operated in Laguna Niguel, Calif.
The FTC alleged that the defendants "failed to transmit their name or the names of their clients on caller ID displays, as required by law. Instead, they allegedly sought to hide their identity by using generic, inaccurate names such as "CARD SERVICES," "CREDIT SERVICES," or "PRIVATE OFFICE."
Cox may be out of business, as are five more companies that the FTC move against in November. but the calls continue even after Chairman Jon Leibowitz declared in November that "at the FTC, Rachel from Cardholder Services is public enemy number one.”
The agency has even offered a $50,000 prize for the best technological solution to the problem, in a competition whose entries were due a month ago. The challenge is that Internet-based phone systems make it extraordinarily easy to disguise, or "spoof," the actual source of a phone call.
No word yet on whether the Whac-a-Mole folks have offered their mallet.