Alleged 'face' of robocalls testifies it's as easy as the 'click of a button'

“I’m not the kingpin of robocalling that has been alleged," the witness said.

April 18, 2018, 4:03 PM

The alleged "face" of unwanted robocalls testified Wednesday that the technology to start a large autodial campaign is easy to use and can be set up by "anyone" from a home office.

"There is available open source software that can be misused by someone to make thousands of automated calls with the click of a button," Adrian Abramovich said during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing.

Abramovich, who was appearing before the committee under subpoena, is facing a record $122 million Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fine for allegedly making almost 100 million spoofed robocalls over three months.

He is accused of making the calls in order to trick unsuspecting consumers into answering and listening to his advertising messages, according to the FCC.

Consumers reported receiving calls from what appeared to be local numbers about "exclusive" vacation deals from companies such as Marriott, Expedia, Hilton, and TripAdvisor.

Abramovich, the former president of Marketing Strategy Leaders, told the committee that there are several options to easily carry out these large-scale calls, which can start with a simple Google search. He said it would take only one employee to make 10,000 robocalls a day.

Abramovich said he would answer general questions about robocalls, but declined to answer questions about his specific case, evoking his Fifth Amendment right.

However, he did offer a brief defense of his case during opening remarks – denying any "intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongfully obtain anything of value."

"I’m not the kingpin of robocalling that has been alleged," he said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told Abramovich that he had "become the face of this problem."

"You may think it unjust, but the fact of the matter is that you have a duty to answer questions," said Blumenthal.

Blumenthal called mass robocalls a "pernicious" and "obnoxious" problem that is "rightly abhorred by consumers."

"There is bipartisan loathing for robocalls," he said.

Robocalls increased from 831 million in September 2015 to 3.2 billion in March 2018 – a 285% increase in less than three years, according to testimony from Margot Freeman Saunders, senior counsel at the National Consumer Law Center.

Abramovich told the committee that he himself receives "four of five robocalls a day" and since the FCC headlines, he has gotten "even more spoofed calls.”

"And you don’t like it?” asked Sen. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat.

"I decline the call," he said.

Abramovich also said the effect on consumers from his calls has been overstated and that only two percent of consumers had any meaningful interaction with these calls.

Two percent of the alleged calls would be eight million people, said Thune.

"Does that sound like a small effect?” he asked.

"I am not prepared to discuss my specific case," responded Abramovich.

Thune said that the committee would consider holding him in contempt of Congress for claiming a Fifth Amendment privilege throughout the hearing after speaking about his specific case during opening remarks.