TripAdvisor’s internal security and Internet fraud team usually busies itself probing sketchy user reviews from the hotel or restaurant competitor down the street or credit card abuse, but the investigators played a key role in helping the U.S. Federal Communications Commission track down an alleged travel-robocall scam that led to potentially the largest enforcement action in the regulator’s history.
The FCC on Thursday announced that Adrian Abramovich and his companies Marketing Strategy Leaders and Marketing Leaders face a $120 million fine — the largest in the regulator’s history — for allegedly making nearly 100 million illegal robocalls in a three-month period to American and Canadian consumers erroneously touting deceptive and non-existent vacation packages and other travel deals supposedly from the likes of TripAdvisor, Marriott, Hilton, Expedia and others.
In a typical scenario, Abramovich’s companies would use pre-recorded messages touting vacation packages from Marriott, TripAdvisor and others, and when consumers pressed “1” or another option on their phones they would be connected with call centers in Mexico that offered deceptive vacation packages or ones that didn’t even exist.
TripAdvisor helped kick off the FCC probe when the review and booking site discovered in 2015 that its consumers were complaining that they were receiving recorded voice greetings, erroneously said to be from TripAdvisor, using spoofed local phone numbers in an effort to sell fraudulent travel deals.
The FCC said TripAdvisor investigators identified Abramovich’s companies as the perpetrator of the deluge of illegal robocalls and in April 2016 TripAdvisor contacted the regulator’s Enforcement Division to share its findings. In addition to TripAdvisor, a medical paging provider, Spok, told the FCC that Abromovich’s robocall activities were disrupting its medical-paging network.
The FCC cited Abramovich “for apparent violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s robocall limits and federal wire fraud statute.”
“These robocall marketing scams were intrusive, annoying and — for some people — incessant,” said Adam Medros, TripAdvisor senior vice president of product, in a statement. “The calls ultimately connected Americans to call centers in Mexico that usually attempted to fleece innocent consumers out of their hard-earned money by promising too-good-to-be-true vacation deals.”
Medros noted that the scammers had targeted virtually the entire travel industry — not just TripAdvisor.
“The list of brands impersonated by these fraudsters goes well beyond TripAdvisor and reads like a who’s who of well-known airlines, hoteliers and online travel agents,” Medros said.
Medros said TripAdvisor is “proud to have worked in partnership with the Federal Communications Commission to protect millions of U.S. consumers who have been subjected to robocall marketing scams.”
Abramovich, who is believed to be based in or near Florida, has 30 days to respond to the FCC citation.