New AGO Robocall Team Formed to Assist with Ongoing Efforts to Stop Scams
Contact: Charity R. Clark, Chief of Staff, 802-828-3171
Attorney General T.J. Donovan today announced a settlement with a small Florida-based company that routed thousands of foreign scam robocalls to Vermonters. The Attorney General investigated the company—Strategic IT Partner—after reports of scam robocalls to the Vermont Consumer Assistance Program (CAP). The settlement will prevent Strategic IT Partner from bringing any robocalls into the U.S. from abroad unless the company first verifies they are wholly legitimate. The Attorney General also today announced the formation of a Robocall Team to assist in the office’s ongoing efforts to combat scam calls in Vermont.
“No U.S.-based phone company has ever been required to protect against illegal foreign call traffic so thoroughly,” said Attorney General Donovan. “But let me be clear: This is far from the end to scam robocalls, unfortunately. Dozens of U.S.-based companies carry illegal robocalls into the country by the millions every day. I am committed to continuing to identify those companies and confronting them. I want to thank the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General for their support and collaboration.”
In October 2020, thousands of Vermonters received the same fraudulent robocall impersonating the Social Security Administration. In response to scam reports received by CAP, the Attorney General traced these calls back to the Florida company, Strategic IT Partner. Strategic IT Partner is an “interconnect” carrier that routed fraudulent calls from a source in India to Vermont.
With investigative help from the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General, the Attorney General then discovered:
- Strategic IT Partner serviced customers (other Voice of Internet Protocol (VoIP) interconnect companies or call centers) based in India, the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates, and Hong Kong;
- Strategic IT Partner took no meaningful steps to verify these customers’ legitimacy prior to accepting their call traffic;
- In one day alone, Strategic IT Partner routed hundreds of thousands of fraudulent robocalls from these foreign customers to the U.S., including thousands to Vermont; and
- Strategic IT Partner ignored red flags that these foreign customers and their call traffic were illegitimate.
“This settlement represents a stern warning to U.S. telecommunications companies responsible for routing scam robocalls impersonating the Social Security Administration and passing these scam calls to customers within the U.S. Such telecommunications companies have a responsibility to American consumers and will be held accountable for irresponsibly enabling foreign-based companies from preying on the public,” said Gail S. Ennis, Inspector General for the Social Security Administration. “I commend the Vermont Attorney General and his office for their aggressive and innovative efforts to protect Vermonters from Social Security-related scam calls. My office will continue to collaborate with Federal and state entities to combat this problem from every angle.”
In March 2021, approximately 5 million robocalls targeted Vermonters. A robocall is a computer-generated telephone call that delivers a pre-recorded message (see “Anatomy of a Robocall” infographic). Foreign organized crime syndicates use robocalls to defraud U.S. consumers. These robocalls impersonate U.S. government agencies or businesses. Typically, foreign scammers send robocalls from computers over VoIP services to U.S. consumers’ telephones. These scammers pay U.S.-based VoIP “interconnect” companies to rout their robocalls to U.S. destination numbers. According to USTelecom, nationally, 89 percent of seniors receive at least one robocall per week; more than half, 56 percent, receive at least seven robocalls per week.
Under the terms of the settlement announced today, Strategic IT Partner must take rigorous steps to screen the legitimacy of all potential customers; is barred from accepting illegal robocalls from foreign customers; and is required to monitor its customers’ call traffic patterns for signs that fraudulent robocalls are occurring. If one of Strategic IT Partner’s foreign customers intends to send a legitimate telemarketing campaign into the U.S. using robocall technology, Strategic IT Partner may only accept those specific calls if it first undertakes an extensive verification process as to the legitimacy of the proposed robocall campaign.
Additionally, the total payment terms of the settlement are $67,000 to the State of Vermont. However, in light of Strategic IT Partner’s financial circumstances, cooperation in the Attorney General’s investigation, and agreement to cease its business operations pending the Attorney General’s investigation, Strategic IT Partner is required to pay the State of Vermont $7,000 with the remainder suspended. If Strategic IT Partner violates the settlement, it will be required to pay the additional $60,000.
The Attorney General also announced a Robocall Team to coordinate the State’s efforts with federal and state attorney general partners. “Vermont is not going to solve this problem alone,” said Attorney General Donovan. “This will continue to be a multi-year, collaborative effort of federal and state law enforcement.”
To report scam robocalls, complete the Consumer Assistance Program’s online reporting form or call 800-649-2424.
A copy of today’s settlement is available here.