FCC orders company linked to student loan robocalls to be blocked

The Federal Communications Commission said Thursday it has blocked all U.S. phone companies from taking calls from a small communications company accused of sending robocalls that push fraudulent student loan assistance services.

Tens of millions of such calls, which often claim to be from a generic “student loan center,” have gone to US phones in recent months, said Alex Quilici, CEO of anti-robocall firm YouMail, who helped the FCC with its investigation. The calls typically referred to the White House’s Student Loan Forgiveness Program and incorrectly claimed that people in the United States with student loans had to either give their personal information to the caller or pay a fee to receive up to to $10,000 in student debt relief.

“Today, we are cutting these scam artists off so they cannot use their efforts to provide student debt relief as cover for fraud,” FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement sent by email.

The FCC’s action to block student loan robocalls follows a similar order in July that blocked phone companies from answering calls from several companies allegedly responsible for a glut of auto warranty offers. The calls have become so common that they’ve inspired their own internet meme.

The FCC has limited investigative power to track the origins of robocalls and often works with the Industry Traceback Group to identify the origins of large robocall campaigns; the group is an anti-robocall task force run by a commercial organization funded by the nation’s major telephone companies. He identified a single company, UrthAccess, as the central origin of a significant amount of student loan spam.

UrthAccess was by far the largest provider of student loan robocalls in recent months, Quilici said. It was responsible for more than 40% of all student loan robocalls in October, the FCC said.

It was unclear whether UrthAccess directly created the robocalls or simply allowed scammers to use its platform. The FCC’s Office of Enforcement is “actively investigating these calls for possible legal action,” the agency said in a statement.

An UrthAccess website describes the company as “a leading provider of cutting-edge communications technology”, but offers few details about the company itself and does not name owners or employees. NBC News emailed and left a voicemail at the contact information listed on the website, but received no response.

The UrthAccess site lists the company’s address as the Newport Office Center, a large office space in Newport Beach, California that provides space for several small businesses.

Kristine Tran, the manager of the Newport Office Center, told NBC News that UrthAcess had “never been a tenant in our building.”

“I’ve never heard of them,” Tran said.


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