News Americas, MIAMI, FL, Thurs. Mar. 5, 2015: A robocall sales pitch for a cruise to the Bahamas has landed Caribbean Cruise Line, Inc. (CCL) in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC and 10 state attorneys generals have taken action against the Florida-based cruise line company and seven other companies that assisted a massive telemarketing campaign resulting in billions of robocalls that included selling cruises to the islands of the Bahamas.
The FTC and state partners allege that that the companies illegally sold cruise vacations using political survey robocalls.
Although the FTC’s do-not-call and robocall rules do not prohibit political survey robocalls, the defendants’ robocalls violated federal law because they incorporated a sales pitch for a cruise to the Bahamas, the FTC said.
The robocalls generated millions of dollars for the cruise line, the Commission claims.
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 approximately 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.
Consumers who completed the survey and pressed one for their cruise were connected to a live telemarketer working on behalf of 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.
Caribbean Cruise Line and the Bahamian Ministry of Tourism had recently teamed up to promote tourism to the Grand Bahama Island on the company’s award winning flagship the ‘Bahamas Celebration.
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.
The 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 defendants 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.
In addition, the Accuardi defendants helped fund the robocallers by sharing fees generated by accessing caller ID names. The five companies charged with assisting and facilitating the robocall violations are: Telephone Management Corporation, T M Caller ID, LLC, Pacific Telecom Communications Group, International Telephone Corporation and International Telephone, LLC.
The FTC was joined in this action by the attorneys general of Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and Washington and appreciates their assistance in bringing this case.
“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. “Anyone who assists in making illegal calls is also on the hook.”
The proposed settlement orders impose: a civil penalty of $7.73 million against CCL, which will be partially suspended after CCL pays $500,000; a partially suspended civil penalty of $5 million against LSS and its owners, upon payment of $25,000; a partially suspended civil penalty of $295,000 against Economic Strategy and its owner, upon the payment of $2,000; a partially suspended civil penalty of $750,000 against Steve Hamilton, one of the owners of Pacific Telecom Communication Group, upon payment of $2,000.
The penalties are partially suspended based on the defendants’ inability to pay, the FTC said.
Litigation continues against Fred Accuardi and the five companies charged with assisting and facilitating the illegal conduct alleged in the complaint.