Cruise Line Accused of Making Fake Political Robocalls

Personal Finance
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Cruise Line Made Fake Political Robocalls

A cruise line, with the help of several other companies, made billions of illegal telephone sales calls that masqueraded as political polls, according to government lawyers.

The Federal Trade Commission and 10 state attorneys general say Florida-based Caribbean Cruise Lines (not to be confused with Royal Caribbean) violated the terms of the federal Do Not Call list. The proposed settlement of the FTC complaint would require Caribbean to pay at least $500,000 in civil penalties. The companies that helped Caribbean would have to pay lesser amounts.

“Marketers who know the ropes understand you can’t steer clear of the do-not-call rules by tacking a political or survey call onto a sales pitch,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Anyone who assists in making illegal calls is also on the hook.”

According to a complaint filed by the FTC and the states, Caribbean was behind a campaign in 2011 and 2012 that made between 12 million and 15 million automatically dialed “robocalls” every day. The calls featured a recorded message from “John from Political Opinions of America,” which said the recipient had been chosen to take a 30-second political survey. After taking the survey, call recipients were told they could press “1” to receive a free Bahamas cruise.

Those who did so were connected to a live telemarketer, from whom they learned that there was a “boarding fee” for the supposedly free cruise. The marketers also would try to up-sell them on hotels, excursions, more expensive onboard cabins and other amenities, the complaint says.

It is illegal to make sales calls to people who have signed up for the FTC’s Do Not Call list — but political surveys are legal.

Two other companies are accused of sending out calls for the cruise line, and five more, all with the same owner, are accused of provided hundreds of phone numbers from which to place the calls.

The FTC was joined by the attorneys general of Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and Washington in bringing the case.

The Federal Trade Commission provides information for consumers, including a page devoted to travel scams and information about limiting unwanted calls and emails.

Doug Gross is a staff writer covering personal finance for NerdWallet. Follow him on Twitter @doug_gross and on Google+.


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