Attorney general files suit against Roanoke robocallers
Attorney General Mark Herring has filed suit against two Roanoke-based telemarketing companies, and Roanoke resident Bryant Cass, for illegal robocalling and deceptive sales practices.
The complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Roanoke, alleges Cass, and his companies, Adventis, Inc. and Skyline Metrics, LLC, made hundreds of thousands of unsolicited robocalls nationwide pitching car selling services to people who listed cars for sale on Craigslist, Autotrader.com, or similar sites.
“Robocalls have become something that Virginians have to deal with on almost a daily basis,” said Herring. “While robocalls are extremely annoying, they can also be dangerous and could potentially scam Virginians out of hundreds if not thousands of dollars. My team and I will continue to do everything we can to protect consumers and shut illegal robocall operations like this one down.”
In the complaint, Herring alleges the businesses used automated equipment to pull telephone numbers from websites, make hundreds of calls a day – even to numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry – and leave prerecorded voicemails in which Cass used fake names like “Peyton” or “Brian” to pitch car selling services for a “small fee” with a “money back guarantee.” If people called back, they reached a telemarketing boiler room in downtown Roanoke, where trained salespeople worked off a scripted pitch to make sales.
Under Virginia and federal telemarketing laws, those making illegal calls are subject to damages or civil penalties of $500 or more per call. The complaint alleges that from 2014 to 2017 alone, Cass and his companies made 586,870 unsolicited telemarketing calls just to numbers with Virginia area codes.
The complaint also alleges that the companies enticed people to pay $289 for online car sales services through deceptive claims like these:
- We have “buyers in your area” or buyers looking for “vehicles like yours,” regardless of whether the companies actually had such buyers.
- We also pre-screen buyers for financing to “make sure they are serious and they have a plan for paying you.” In fact, there was no such pre-screening.
- “We have a Money Back Guarantee!” If you sell your car on your own, “you’re eligible for a refund in the first 45 days.” In fact, refunds were hard to get, and Cass instructed employees to limit the number of refunds given, even to customers who took all the steps to qualify for a refund.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, Virginia was the 7th highest state in the nation for Do Not Call Registry complaints with 181,936 complaints in 2018. Additionally, Virginians made more than 118,000 complaints to the FTC about robocalls alone.
Americans received almost 18 billion scam robocalls in 2018 and overall, robocalls increased in the U.S. by 57 percent from 2017 to 2018. The FCC reports that impostor scams have reportedly cost consumers $488 million just in 2018.
Herring’s Consumer Protection Section has recovered more than $301 million in relief for consumers and payments from violators. The section has transferred more than $33 million to the Commonwealth’s General Fund, and following a major reorganization and enhancement in 2016 the section has been even more effective in fighting for Virginia consumers.
The Attorney General has the following tips for Virginians to help manage robocalls:
- Don’t answer calls from numbers you do not recognize.
- If it’s an unwanted robocall, hang up.
- Don’t press any numbers. This could lead to even more calls, even if the robocall claims you can press 1 to speak to a live operator or press a number to get your number off the calling list.
- Register your home and mobile phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry at donotcall.govor by calling 1-888-382-1222 from the number you wish to register.
- Report robocalls to the National Do Not Call Registry at donotcall.gov. Federal and state law enforcement officials have access to the complaints filed through the National Do Not Call Registry.
- Contact your phone service provider and ask about available robocall-blocking technology.
- Consider using mobile apps or other features that may already be built into your phone to block robocalls.