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New England News

VT AG Reaches Settlement With Florida Company Routing Robocalls To The State

Anatomy of a Robocall graphic used by Vermont Attorney General's office
Created by the MI Dept. of Attorney General
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Anatomy of a Robocall graphic used by Vermont Attorney General's office

The Vermont Attorney General has reached a first-in-the-nation settlement with a telecommunications company that will prevent it from routing international robocalls into the state.

Robocalls are the top complaint received at the Vermont Consumer Assistance Program. According to Attorney General T.J. Donovan, nearly 160,000 such calls hit Vermont every day and in March 2021 alone the state received about 5 million of the scam calls. Republican State Senator Randy Brock is  a co-sponsor of a bill that would prohibit robocalls in the state

“Robocalls are sort of like an electronic mosquito," Brock said. "We constantly find them buzzing around our head and occasionally they bite and actually take blood.  They are not just an annoyance but they are a danger. And they’re so ubiquitous. Just as an example when the chief of staff of the Attorney General’s office was testifying in one of our committees she got a robocall. One of the senators on the committee got a robocall. That’s how bad it is!”

Attorney General Donovan, a Democrat,  believes his office has found a way to begin to combat the onslaught. 

“Foreign scammers can’t call into Vermont directly," Donovan said. "They have to rely on U.S. based phone companies to accept their scam robocalls onto the U.S. phone network and then they route these scam robocalls to their U.S. destination numbers. These U.S. phone companies act as gateways for fraud and that is what we are focusing on.”  

In October 2020,  Donovan says his office was able to trace fraudulent calls claiming to be from the Social Security Administration to a Florida company that was routing the calls from India.

“We reached out to the Social Security Administration and with some assistance from them we determined that Strategic IT Partners knew, or should have known, that it was facilitating scam robocalls," the AG said. "We were able to reach a settlement with Strategic IT Partners. This is key. The settlement blocks the company, which is this gateway carrier, from bringing scam calls into the U.S.”

AARP Vermont Executive Director Greg Marchildon called the settlement a significant step in stalling scams. 

“It may seem small but this is a breakthrough," Marchildon said. "We strongly encourage our members to report. This is how we can get on top of these robocall scams as quickly as possible.”

Donovan says there is now a framework that will allow the office to go after other gateway carriers. 

“This is the first settlement nationally that requires a U.S. based telecommunications company to block all robocall traffic unless and until it first verifies robocalls as being legitimate," Donovan said. "Now look I don’t want to declare victory. I do think this is progress. Strategic IT Partners is just one of many U.S. based companies that act as gateways for foreign scam calls. So this is not the end of robocalls. But for our office this settlement is the start of a long term commitment to addressing illegal robocalls.”

The attorney general also announced the launch of a robocall team and is asking Vermonters to report scam calls.