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Justice Department targets robocalls with two major court cases

It's an effort to stop hundreds of millions of fraudulent calls causing "devastating financial harm."

Robocalls continue to pour in.
Óscar Gutiérrez/CNET

The Justice Department's first enforcement of a civil complaint against carriers for facilitating robocalls on their networks saw "two major actions" filed in courts Tuesday morning. The calls, originating from India, have spoofed caller IDs from numbers like 911, Social Security and the IRS, and are causing "devastating financial harm," Assistant Attorney General Jody H. Hunt of the Civil Division said in a press call Tuesday afternoon.

"Each year, fraudsters steal hundreds of millions of dollars from consumers," Hunt said. The organizations being targeted are allegedly "gateway telecommunications carriers" that knowingly pass on fraudulent calls.

"[They] pass along hundreds of millions of calls every month despite knowing of the calls' fraudulent nature," Hunt alleged.

US Attorney Richard P. Donoghue for the Eastern District of New York identified the five carriers as being three operated by Jon Kahen of Great Neck, New York, known as Global Voicecom Inc., Global Telecommunication Services Inc. and KAT Telecom Inc., aka IP Dish; and by Nicholas and Natasha Palumbo in Scottsdale, Arizona, known as and SIP Retail LLC.

These three individuals "particularly stood out" among the information the department, along with the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General and the US Postal Inspection Service, had on carriers transmitting robocalls.

The alleged robocall ploys involve telling victims they're facing immediate deportation or owe thousands of dollars to various government entities, Donoghue said. Victims are then pressured into transferring money to the scammers to avoid facing legal action. The calls aren't just an annoyance, but also cause "serious problems" for the elderly and vulnerable, Hunt said.

The department has asked the court to halt these carriers from committing wire fraud, Donoghue said. This was the fastest method it could take to act to shut down the alleged schemes, the department found. A federal court has already issued a temporary restraining order against the Global Voicecom defendants. Global Voicecom and the two companies under its banner -- Global Telecommunication Services and KAT Telecom -- didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Nor did or SIP Retail.

The court actions come as complaints about robocalls continue growing. During 2019, 58.5 billion robocalls were made in the US, according to YouMail. The US House passed a bill to block robocalls on Dec. 5, with the Senate passing the legislation later in December.

Originally published Jan. 28, 12:32 p.m. PT.
Updates, 1:11 p.m.: Adds more details; 1:44 p.m.: Includes detail on restraining order.

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