Robocalls in crosshairs: DOJ moves to stop telecom companies behind fraudulent calls

The Department of Justice sought temporary restraining orders on Tuesday against five companies and three individuals who've been accused of carrying hundreds of millions of fake robocalls to the United States.

The defendants in one case are Ecommerce National LLC (Tradename, TollFreeDeals.com); SIP Retail (Tradename, sipretail.com); and their owner/operators, Nicholas Palumbo, 38, and Natasha Palumbo, 33, of Scottsdale, Ariz. The defendants in the other case include Global Voicecom Inc., Global Telecommunication Services Inc., KAT Telecom Inc., and their owner/operator, Jon Kahen, 45, of Great Neck, N.Y.

After the DOJ sought civil orders to stop the defendants from transmitting the fraudulent calls, a federal court issued a temporary restraining order against Global Voicecom.

U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue of the Eastern District of New York spoke with Fox News about the case and said the victims were usually threatened with phony legal action to spook them into handing over their money.

"The callers say things to scare them about deportation or problems with Social Security," he said. "We expect that millions of these robocalls will be stopped."

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The calls, most of which originated in India, helped initiate financial fraud schemes on senior citizens and other victims throughout the U.S.

Assistant Attorney General Jody H. Hunt, who was part of the team that announced the civil action, spoke with Fox News and said the federal government has devoted considerable resources to investigating the issue.

"If we get the relief we’ve sought it will shut down their ability to make the calls," Hunt said. "[We've] spent a lot of effort to investigate these matters and obtained specific evidence to seek the court orders to stop the action."

He also called the companies "significant players in the industry" and said the DOJ might work to recover some of the stolen funds that were lost as a result of the robocalls. However, any discussion about future legal action, including criminal proceedings, would be purely speculative at this point, Hunt added.

According to a Justice Department press release, the government is accusing the defendants of using voice over the Internet protocol (VoIP) to send phone calls through an internet connection, rather than the traditional copper phone linesForeign companies took advantage of the system and used the defendants as “gateway carriers," to deliver an "astronomical number of robocalls."

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The DOJ complaint against Ecommerce National alleged that the defendants carried 720 million calls during a sample 23-day period. More than 425 million of those calls lasted less than one second.

A DOJ official told Fox that the government has been working closely with the telecommunications industry to weed out robocall scammers. They also said the federal government may pursue criminal charges and seek asset forfeiture from the defendants, as the case develops.

"[The defendants] got payments to move the calls through their services and into the broader U.S. telecoms service," the official said. "They know that these calls that they’re passing are indeed fraudulent calls.

"Our investigation continues here and the department is committed to taking action," the source continued. "The fastest method for us to act was to shut down these ongoing schemes. We’re not taking anything off the table but the actions we’re taking today were those we were able to take immediately."

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Fox News also reached out to Social Security Administration Inspector General Gail Ennis, who said one 75-year-old victim was harassed by a fake police officer so much, that she eventually sent the impostor $260,000.

"No matter how many calls we stop, there will likely be more," she said.

Fox News' Jake Gibson contributed to this report