U.S. FCC fines Florida man $120 million in 'robocall' case

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted to issue a $120 million fine to a Florida man alleged to have made almost 100 million robocalls to trick consumers with “exclusive” vacation deals from well-known travel and hospitality companies.

In 2017, the FCC first alleged that Adrian Abramovich made 96 million robocalls during a three-month period in 2016. The commission proposed a $120 million fine but did not finalize it until Thursday.

Abramovich and his legal representatives could not be immediately reached to comment on the fine. In April, he told a Senate panel that he was “not the kingpin of robocalling that is alleged.”

He denied engaging in “fraudulent activities” and said “it was always my intent with the FCC to negotiate toward an appropriate fine within my ability to pay such an amount.”

Abramovich declined to answer some questions about his case, invoking the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The FCC said the calls, which violated U.S. telecommunications laws, appeared to offer vacation deals from companies such as Marriott International Inc, Expedia Group Inc, Hilton Inc and TripAdvisor Inc.

TripAdvisor complained to the FCC in 2016 after getting complaints from consumers claiming it was robocalling them.

Consumers who answered the calls were transferred to foreign call centers that tried to sell vacation packages, often involving timeshares.

These call centers were not related to the major companies, the FCC said.

Abramovich told the Senate he had been engaged in legitimate telemarketing for more than 15 years and that the calls were offering real vacation packages.

The FCC said in June “Abramovich is the perpetrator of one of the largest — and most dangerous — illegal robocalling campaigns that the Commission has ever investigated.”

Those robocalls impacted other people and services, the FCC said. Abramovich “engaged in regular mass-robocalling campaigns during 2015 and 2016” that “repeatedly disrupted a critical telecommunications service used by hospitals and emergency medical providers,” it said.

U.S. consumers get nearly 2.5 billion monthly robocalls - automated, prerecorded calls that regulators have labeled a “scourge,” according to FCC estimates.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said last year “Americans are mad as hell” at robocalls and the agency gets more than 200,000 complaints annually.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said the commission must do more to address robocalls.

YouMail, a company that blocks robocalls and tracks them, estimated that 3.4 billion robocalls were placed in April in the United States, an all time high.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio