Stop, in the name of Nomorobo!

Stop sign: The U.S. Department of Justice has taken bold action against three Long Island "gateway" companies allegedly responsible for facilitating millions of illegal international robocalls.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

The U.S. Department of Justice is looking to shut down several “gateway carriers,” including several based on Long Island, accused of helping illegal international robocalls reach American consumers.

And the Island’s own champion of robo-blocking may have helped the feds crack the case.

The Justice Department filed civil actions Jan. 28 in two separate cases targeting five companies, alleging three defendants – including Jon Kahen of Great Neck, owner of Global Voicecom, Global Telecommunication Services and KAT Telecom (a.k.a. IP Dish) – opened the virtual doors to millions of fraudulent, overseas-based robocalls.

According to the DOJ, the two cases – one against Kahen, one against an Arizona couple and their two telecom companies – were brought after the defendants were repeatedly warned by federal investigators against carrying fraudulent robocalls.

But the five companies “continued to carry those calls and facilitate foreign-based fraud schemes targeting Americans,” the DOJ said, citing robocalls largely originating in India.

Through the U.S. “gateways,” overseas impostors – using fake Caller ID numbers that appeared to be legit calls from the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Social Security Administration, government immigration offices or genuine private businesses – hit pay dirt with tens of thousands of swindled cellphone owners, leading to “massive financial losses to elderly and vulnerable victims across the nation,” according to federal investigators.

Robocalls and you: Closing the international “gateway.”

In its two separate civil actions, the DOJ sought court orders immediately halting the transmission of unlawful robocalls by Kahen’s three New York-registered companies and by Ecommerce National (dba TollFreeDeals.com) and SIP Retail (dba Sipretail.com), both based in Arizona.

The U.S. District Court (Eastern District of New York) immediately issued a temporary restraining order against Kahen (a.k.a. “Jon Kaen”) and his three companies, and ordered New Jersey-based Somos Inc. – the Federal Communications Commission subcontractor that manages the U.S. toll-free calling system and database – to suspend all toll-free numbers registered by the New York defendants “until further ordered.”

Collectively, the five companies carried “astronomical numbers” of robocalls, according to the Justice Department. One complaint alleges that of the 720 million total calls Ecommerce National carried during one sample 23-day period, 425 million lasted less than 1 second – indicating they were robocalls, likely terminated by a robocall blocker.

That level of call-tracking and data-crunching requires sophisticated technology and boots on the ground – at least, a virtual foothold in the digital arena where international fraudsters make their play.

Enter Nomorobo. Maybe.

Aaron Foss: Group effort.

Aaron Foss, creator of the multiplatform autodialer assassin, was tightlipped about whether Nomorobo or Mount Sinai-based parent company Telephone Science Corp. assisted the federal investigation – though he did note his startup’s “strong ties” with the U.S. Telecom Association, the national trade organization that played a key role in the run-up to the Jan. 28 court actions.

“What’s great about all this is they used tracebacks – they identified a target, then went and traced it back to the carrier,” Foss said, noting that requires contributions from Nomorobo-level service providers.

And whether or not it was actually Nomobrobo lending a technological hand, he added, the investigation itself is evidence that the tide is finally turning against the robocallers of the world.

“I’m very excited that so many groups and organizations are joining the robocall fight,” Foss told Innovate LI. “We said from the very beginning that it wasn’t just a tech solution or a regulatory solution.

“The technology to block [robocalls] has existed for years, and Nomorobo is great and our customers are happy,” he added. “But it finally seems like everybody is coming together to fight this problem.”

For a company based on stopping robocalls short of customers’ phones – Nomorobo now protects 3 million land and mobile lines and will pass 1.5 billion blocks sometime in March, according to Foss – a united effort to stop them at their source might sound counterintuitive.

In fact, a new report by Nomorobo shows that “illegal or unwanted” robocalls are indeed on the decline, down 5 percent (as a percentage of total U.S. calls) between 2018 and 2019 – a “downward trend that is poised to continue,” according to the company, which cites increased consumer use of Nomorobo-type apps and services, Federal Trade Commission crackdowns and a new federal anti-robocall law (though critics lament the law’s lack of teeth).

Bad for business? Not according to Foss, who counts one more anti-robocall trend, this playing in Nomorobo’s favor: major carriers integrating robocall-blocking tech into their basic services.

“It’s like email spam protection – it’s still there, billions of spam emails sent and blocked,” the entrepreneur said. “But it’s under control now because spam protection is built into the email system.

“That’s where it’s going with robocalls,” Foss added. “You’re not going to need a separate app like Nomorobo – but our data will be sold to carriers and our blacklist will be implemented on the carrier or network level, where it should be.”

That pivot will be critical to the 2016 startup’s long-term success, according to its founder, who applauds new regulations and new industry-wide efforts to take the fight to illegal robocallers – but knows “this problem is not going away.”

“Robocall volume is down 5 percent, but it sure doesn’t feel like it,” Foss noted. “It’s still epic numbers.

“Real-time identification and protection is needed, whether it’s coming from a mobile app or a consumer service,” he added. “And when you put together tech like ours, and new regulations and new laws, and organizations like U.S. Telecom facilitating the tracebacks, there’s fewer and fewer places for those criminals to hide.”