Robocalls Are A Bigger Issue Than What Americans May Think

Let's face it - robocalls are becoming a bigger issue than what many Americans may think. Read more in the article below. ...
Robocalls Are A Bigger Issue Than What Americans May Think
Written by Staff
  • In the latest attempt by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to mitigate billions of unsolicited robocalls, authorities issued a cease-and-desist to Avid Telecom, an American telecommunications company, over alleged health robocalls made to millions of citizens on the National Do Not Call Registry. 

    Attorneys general from nearly every U.S. state, including the District of Columbia have filed a lawsuit against Avid Telecom. The company has been accused of making more than 7.5 billion robocalls in the last several years to registered callers on the National Do Not Call Registry. 

    Choosing profits over state and federal laws is now putting the spotlight back on an epidemic that’s been bubbling under the surface. Something that’s costing consumers millions of dollars each year, and allowing robocall operatives to disappear with the money through a legal loophole that’s hard to close off. 

    The latest incident isn’t the first to be splashed on the front page of nearly every major news and media outlet. 

    Over the last several years, American citizens have been bombarded by robocalls, often posing as veterans, civil workers, police officers, or government employees asking for small donations to help support their political “causes.” 

    According to YouMail, a call-management service provider, more than 50.3 billion automated calls were made last year, down from 50.5 billion in 2021. More worrisome, YouMail estimates that nearly 41 percent of all robocalls made last year were placed by scammers.  

    The problem has only gotten increasingly worse over time, now that technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems can create almost human-like voices on prerecorded messages. 

    What are they asking for? Anything from donations to support their charitable cause, to helping raise money for political campaigns, to demanding payment for nonexistent debts and even all-expenses-paid travel. 

    These robocalls, often fake and illegal, have yielded a median loss of $1,400 per person in 2022 according to figures released by the Federal Trade Commission. 

    While conditions are growing increasingly hostile, and the FCC, along with attorneys general are looking to further mitigate these illicit activities, a legal loophole could make it harder for them to put a stop to the problem. 

    A New York Times investigation found that five groups: American Police Officers Association; Firefighters and EMS Fund; National Police Support Fund and American Veterans Honors Fund raised more than $89 million in small-dollar-donations since 2014. 

    In the calls made to civilians, the nonprofit groups alleged that the majority of the funds they raise will be put towards assisting and aiding police officers, firefighters, and veterans to upstart their political campaigns. 

    While the concept experienced major support from voters on both sides of the political aisle, unfortunately, the reality was that nearly 90 percent of the money was used to pay for their fund-raising contractors, which in most cases included operators of robocalls. 

    In total, these groups spent nearly 1 percent or $826,904 of their donations on campaigns, the rest simply disappeared with them through the loophole. 

    This isn’t the only case of its sort. 

    During the early days of June, the FCC announced that it will serve a $5.1 million fine against Jack Burkamn and Jacob Wohl, and J.M Burkman & Associates. Burkman and Wohl are known to be conservative activists.

    The multi-million dollar fine comes after allegations that the involved suspects had a hand in making more than 1,141 illegal robocalls between Aug. 26 to Sept 14., 2020, before the election. 

    What were these calls about you might wonder? 

    Well, the guilty wasn’t phoning for donations or political support, depending on who you may ask. Instead, they were pleading with voters to not use mail-in voting during the 2020 election and further urging them to be cautious of “mandatory” COVID-19 vaccine claims. 

    Reports claimed that Wohl recruited a black voice actress to record their anti-voting message, which was later used in more than 1,000 wireless robocalls. 

    According to the FCC, the message read as follow: 

    Hi, this is Tamika Taylor from Project 1599, the civil rights organization founded by Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl. Mail-in voting sounds great, but did you know that if you vote by mail, your personal information will be part of a public database that will be used by police departments to track down old warrants and used by credit card companies to collect outstanding debts? The CDC is even pushing to use records for mail-in voting to track people for mandatory vaccines. Don’t be finessed into giving your private information to the man, stay safe, and beware of vote by mail.

    Since the fine has been issued, both Burkman and Wohl have pleaded guilty to one count of telecommunications fraud for making robocalls in Cuyahoga County, Ohio the FCC noted. 

    So if these campaigns are acting in good faith, prompting veterans and civil servants to jumpstart their political campaigns, how have they been able to swindle millions of dollars from innocent citizens? 

    It all boils down to how these organizations are registered with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). 

    The majority of these political nonprofits are registered as a 527, a section of the tax code, that allows nonprofits to raise unlimited donations. With these donations, the organizations can then support campaigns to oppose candidates, help raise more awareness for certain social issues or further encourage voting, 

    The groups that formed part of The New York Times investigation were all linked to nonprofits that have tucked their tax filings in coffers due to lax oversight and a clear blindspot in the campaign finance system. 

    The situation might have been different if the tax code was written up differently, or if these organizations were registered as 501(c)(3) charities, a traditional charity.

    This would mean that in the event either residents or attorneys general feel that donors are being ripped off, then they can step in, and hold these organizations accountable with legal action. 

    Unfortunately, in the political sphere, and the context of political nonprofits, control over these activities, especially when it comes to thousands of robocalls that have been made, oversight is often blurred. 

    Ultimately, what this means is that these nonprofit political organizations exist in a sort of blind spot, seemingly on purpose, and well embedded within the campaign finance system. 

    The call to action here would be to introduce more stringent regulation and accountability for nonprofit political campaigns. From here, further consideration would be needed to underwrite new laws and regulations that protect voters against illegal robocalls or educate them about sensitive private information they are allowed to withhold when confronted with robocalls. 

    The problem at hand is perhaps more severe than many Americans may think. While the Federal Communications Commission is to further its efforts to protect citizens, it’s becoming an increasingly hard call to make to decide on who to hold accountable. 

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