Robocalls to consumers seeking information for political surveys is legal. But when you throw in a sales pitch for a cruise to the Bahamas, that’s a different matter.
The Federal Trade Commission and 10 state attorneys general have taken action against a Florida-based cruise line and seven other companies that took part in a “massive telemarketing campaign resulting in billions of robocalls.”
The FTC’s do-not-call and robocall rules do not prohibit political survey robocalls, but these companies’ robocalls violated federal law because they incorporated the sales pitch for Caribbean cruises. The robocalls generated millions of dollars for the cruise line.
Consumers who completed the survey and pressed “one” for their cruise were connected to a live telemarketer working on behalf of Caribbean Cruise Line, Inc. (CCL), to market its cruise vacations. In addition to the cruise, these telemarketers also sold pre-boarding hotels, cruise excursions, enhanced accommodations, and other travel packages.
“Marketers who know the ropes understand you can’t steer clear of the do not call rules by tacking a political or survey call onto a sales pitch,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. She added: “Anyone who assists in making illegal calls is also on the hook.”
The FTC complaint also charges a group of five “interrelated companies”, and their owner, Fred Accuardi, with assisting and facilitating the illegal cruise calls. The complaint alleges that these entities provided robocallers with hundreds of telephone numbers to use when making calls, made it possible for robocallers to choose and change the names that would appear on consumers’ caller ID devices, and hid the robocallers’ identities from authorities.
Proposed settlement orders bar CCL and the other settling defendants from engaging in abusive telemarketing practices, including calling consumers whose phone numbers are on the DNC Registry, calling anyone that has previously said they don’t want to be called again, failing to transmit accurate caller ID information, and placing illegal robocalls.
The proposed settlement orders also impose a civil penalty of $7.73 million against CCL, which will be partially suspended after CCL pays $500,000.
According to the joint complaint filed by the FTC and the states, the defendants’ robocall campaign ran from October 2011 through July 2012 and averaged about 12 to 15 million illegal sales calls a day.
Consumers who answered these calls typically heard a pre-recorded message supposedly from “John from Political Opinions of America,” who 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.
The complaint charges CCL with violating the agency’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) by using robocalls to sell cruise vacations. The complaint also alleges that two other companies, Linked Service Solutions, LLC and Economic Strategy LLC, violated the TSR by placing the robocalls that generated leads for CCL.