July 25, 2021

FTC, states say Caribbean Cruise Line disguised billions of robo-salescalls as political surveys: Plain Dealing

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CaribbeanCruiseLine-LogoBy Sheryl Harris, The Plain Dealer From Cleveland.com

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A cruise company made billions of robocalls illegally disguised as political surveys to sell Bahamas cruises, a lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission and Ohio attorney general’s office says.

Telemarketers working with Caribbean Cruise Line Inc. called as many as 15 million people a day, promising them cruises if they completed a short political survey, according to the suit filed by the FTC and 10 states.

The cruise line and its telemarketing partners cooked up a bizarre scheme to throw both and consumers and law enforcement off its trail, the suit says.

Do Not Call rules grant an exemption for political calls and for surveys, but they prohibit companies from disguising sales calls to get around the rules.

Telemarketing rules also prohibit companies from making pre-recorded sales calls — robocalls — to people without their express, written permission.

The companies violated those rules when it robocalled people between October 2011 and July 2012, when angry consumers filed a class-action lawsuit against the cruise line, the FTC’s lawsuit said.

People who received the calls heard a recorded request from “John of Political Opinions of America,” who said they had been “carefully selected” for the 30-second survey. When they completed it, they were told, they could press “1” to receive a two-day cruise to the Bahamas.

People who tried to claim the cruise were patched through to representatives from Caribbean Cruise Line, who told them the cruise would cost them $59 per person in “port taxes” and who tried to sell them add-ons such as pre-boarding stays at hotels and excursions.

The calls generated millions of dollars for the cruise line, the FTC alleged.

Caribbean has agreed to a $7.7 million settlement — but the bulk of that will be suspended once the cruise line pays $500,000. Two other companies, Linked Service Solutions LLC and Economic Strategy LLC, also agreed to settle charges they helped with the robocalls or provided sales leads.

The suit continues against five companies and Fred Accuardi, the man who owns them. According to the suit, those companies helped hide Caribbean Cruise Lines and its telemarketers’ identity from both consumers and law enforcement.

The suit says those companies owned thousands of phone numbers they leased to the telemarketers so the telemarketers could disguise who was calling from consumers’ caller IDs. The use of many different numbers also thwart consumers’ attempts to block the calls.

The use of many different calling numbers also threw off law enforcement agencies, because they use consumer complaints about caller numbers to determine how widespread a robocall campaign is.

The five made additional money by sharing in “dip fees” that were generated when consumers’ phone carriers had to look up those numbers.

The five companies named are Telephone Management Corporation, T M Caller ID LLC, Pacific Telecom Communications Group, International Telephone Corp. and International Telephone LLC.

IMAGE: Alas, there was a pricetag on paradise, the FTC’s lawsuit against Caribbean Cruise Line says. Associated Press

For more on this story go to: http://www.cleveland.com/consumeraffairs/index.ssf/2015/03/ftc_states_say_caribbean_cruis.html

Related story:

Colorado Attorney General’s Office settles wth Caribbean Cruise Line regarding abusive telemarketing practices

DENVER—The Colorado Attorney General’s Office, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and nine other state attorneys general, announced a $500,000 settlement to resolve state and federal violations of no-call laws. Billions of illegal robocalls were made on behalf of Caribbean Cruise Line (CCL) that generated millions of dollars in illegal cruise vacation sales.

“Approximately 1.8 billion robocalls were placed to consumers in violation of Colorado and federal do-not-call laws,” said Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman. “My office just issued our annual Top 10 Consumer Complaint announcement, and fraudulent and unwanted phone calls ranked number five on our list. This settlement with Caribbean Cruise Line is proof that when consumers stand up and report fraud, state and federal government agencies work together to protect them.”

Between October 2011 and July 2012, the defendants placed approximately 12 to 15 million illegal sales calls per day. When a consumer answered, they heard a pre-recorded message supposedly from “John from Political Opinions of America.” “John” told them they had been “carefully selected” to participate in a 30-second research survey, after which, they could “press one” to receive a two-day cruise to the Bahamas. By pressing one, the consumer was next connected to a telemarketer working on behalf of Caribbean Cruise Line and sold cruise vacations, pre-boarding hotels, cruise excursions, upgraded accommodations and other travel packages.

The lawsuit alleges that illegal robocalls were placed that generated sales leads for CCL. The complaint additionally charges five interrelated companies, Telephone Management Corporation, T M Caller ID, LLC; Pacific Telecom Communications Group, International Telephone Corporation and International Telephone, LLC, as well as owner, Fred Accuardi, with assisting and facilitating the illegal cruise calls. The defendants provided robocallers with hundreds of telephone numbers used to make calls and made it possible for robocallers to change the names that appeared on caller ID devices and displays. That masked the true identity of the caller from both consumers and authorities. In addition, the Accuardi defendants helped fund the robocallers by sharing fees that were generated by accessing caller ID names.

Under terms of the settlement, CCL, Linked Service Solutions LLC, and its owners Scott Broomfield and Jason Birkett, as well as Economic Strategy LLC, and its owner, Jacob deJongh, are barred from abusive telemarketing practices, including calling consumers whose phone numbers are on no-call registries. The defendants also agreed to stop calling anyone who previously said they did not want to be called again. In addition the settlement prohibits the parties from transmitting inaccurate caller ID information and placing illegal robocalls. The settlement requires CCL to regularly monitor its lead generators and to terminate relationships with any companies that violate the telemarketing sales rules. Litigation against Fred Accuardi and the five companies charged with assisting and facilitating the illegal conduct alleged in the complaint continues.

SOURCE: http://www.coloradoattorneygeneral.gov/press/news/2015/03/04/colorado_attorney_general’s_office_settles_caribbean_cruise_line_regarding_abu

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