Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit today against a Corvallis, Ore.-based company, Global Grid Telecom, and its owner for illegally robocalling Washingtonians with deceptive recorded messages. Ironically, the calls attempted to sell a purported robocall-blocking service.
The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, asserts Global Grid Telecom violated the Washington Automatic Dialing and Announcing Device (WADAD) Statute and the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) when the company robocalled people, and also further violated the CPA when Global Grid Telecom targeted consumers on the Do Not Call Registry and made deceptive claims in its solicitations to them.
“My office will continue to serve as a watchdog to protect Washingtonians from illegal robocalls,” Ferguson said. “Here is my message to deceptive robocallers: Immediately stop harassing Washingtonians, or we will hold you accountable."
From May 2017 through December 2019, the company used an autodialing program to send pre-recorded commercial voice messages directly to the voicemails of CenturyLink customers with Washington landline phone numbers.
Global Grid Telecom made 54,410 calls into Washington state. The company called 16,808 Washingtonians more than once. One Washingtonian received 23 robocalls from Global Grid Telecom.
The company made 46,332 robocalls to Washington telephone numbers on the Do Not Call Registry to advertise its service.
Ferguson’s lawsuit asks the court to shut down the company’s illegal conduct, and seeks restitution for Washingtonians who bought into Global Grid Telecom’s service during the robocall campaign. Under the CPA, the company faces a maximum $7,500 penalty per violation.
A deceptive sales pitch
Global Grid Telecom offered a telephone service called “MAX|Command” that, the company represented, would stop unwanted telephone calls when added to the customer’s CenturyLink telephone line. However, the service does not offer any unique features and its control features are already within CenturyLink’s voicemail system.
The following is an example of one of the company’s robocall messages: “Please do not hang up. The voicemail system has an urgent announcement for you regarding your security and the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call Registry. There’s a new telephone feature that you can add to your current CenturyLink phone line that will screen and block robocalls and unwanted telemarketers.”
Ferguson asserts Global Grid Telecom’s voicemail messages sounded like official messages from CenturyLink, and consumers complained that the messages deceptively sounded as if the offer came from CenturyLink. Nearly all of the company’s messages referred to a “voicemail system announcement.” Many of the messages also referred to the advertised service as an “upgrade” or new feature to CenturyLink accounts. Further, some of the messages referenced the Do Not Call Registry, which could have deceived people into believing the message was associated with the federal government.
The company also claimed its products would stop all robocalls, and would stop 90 to 100% of telemarketers and unwanted calls. In fact, “MAX|Command” did not prevent robocalls. It only would manage and add phone numbers to a list of blocked numbers on a telephone line, without actually blocking new incoming unwanted calls.
The robocall message did not provide an option for people to remove themselves from Global Grid Telecom’s call list. In some instances, consumers who informed the company they no longer wanted to receive messages from Global Grid Telecom continued to receive robocalls.
The company also told people that “subscriptions start at just pennies per month,” yet failed to mention that they would be charged up-front fees to activate the service.
Based on preliminary information, the cost of the service varied widely. Typically, these up-front fees ranged from $30-$60, and went as high as $100, and subscription fees totaled about $70-$80 per year.
The lawsuit seeks to return the money Washingtonians paid to Global Grid Telecom.
Assistant Attorney General Mina Shahin, investigator Eric Peters and paralegal Judy Lim of the office’s Consumer Protection Division handled the case for Washington.
Ferguson’s recent legal wins against robocallers
In August 2020, a King County Superior Court judge ordered Vancouver, Wash.-based air duct cleaning companies and their owner to pay civil penalties of $10 million in a lawsuit over deceptive advertisements and robocalls. The companies made over 13 million robocalls within Washington state from 2017 to 2019, including calling more than 500 individual Washingtonians over 100 times. The judge’s order also permanently barred the companies and owner from making robocalls or deceptively marketing these services in the future.
In March 2020, as a result of a lawsuit brought by Ferguson, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and 39 other attorneys general, two national companies that made more than 1.7 million robocalls for sham charities into Washington state paid $495,000 to help fund legitimate charities.
Attorney General’s Office and AARP focus on robocall awareness
Ferguson has recently appeared in a series of events with Washington state’s chapter of AARP that focus on preventing and responding to robocalls. Ferguson appeared at a statewide “Tip Offs to Rip Offs” virtual event on Sep. 22, then a Seattle event on Oct. 6.
On Oct. 27, Ferguson will appear at a free, virtual event hosted by AARP in the Spokane-area. The event is from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and you do not need to be an AARP member to watch. You can register for the event here: https://onlinexperiences.com/scripts/Server.nxp?LASCmd=AI:4;F:QS!10100&ShowUUID=8F88F032-757E-407C-B896-3603B569F24A.
What should you do if you receive a robocall?
The best advice for Washingtonians who receive a robocall without their permission is to hang up.
Some robocalls may give you an option to opt out of receiving future calls, but if the caller is a scammer, they are unlikely to honor your request. If you believe a call is a scam, report it to the Attorney General’s Office at atg.wa.gov/file-complaint or call toll-free 1-800-551-4636. Washingtonians also can report robocalls to the Federal Trade Commission at https://complaints.donotcall.gov/complaint/complaintcheck.aspx.
Some phone and wireless services offer call blocking or labeling services to help individuals determine whether a call is a telemarketer or a scammer. Consumers should contact their service provider to find out what is available.
Source: Washington Attorney General