The Federal Communications Commission said Thursday that it had blocked all U.S. phone companies from taking calls from a tiny communications company accused of sending robocalls that push fraudulent student loan relief services.
Tens of millions of such calls, which often claim to come from a generic “student loan center,” went out to U.S. phones in recent months, said Alex Quilici, the CEO of the anti-robocall company YouMail, which helped the FCC with its investigation. The calls usually referred to the White House student loan forgiveness program and falsely claimed that people in the U.S. with student loans needed to either tell the caller their personal information or pay a fee to receive up to $10,000 in student debt relief.
“Today we’re cutting these scammers off so they can’t use efforts to provide student loan debt relief as cover for fraud,” FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said in an emailed statement.
The FCC’s action to block student loan robocalls follows a similar order in July that prevented phone companies from fielding calls from several companies alleged to be responsible for a glut of offers for car warranties. The calls became so common that they 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 trade organization funded by the country’s major phone companies. It identified a single company, UrthAccess, as the central origin for a substantial amount of student loan spam.
UrthAccess was by far the single biggest 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 wasn’t clear if UrthAccess actually directly created the robocalls or if it simply allowed scammers to use its platform. The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau “is actively investigating these calls for possible further legal action,” the agency said in a statement.
A website for UrthAccess described the company as “a leading provider of state-of-the-art communications technologies,” but offers few details about the company itself and doesn’t name any owners or employees. NBC News sent emails and left a voicemail at the contact information listed on the website but didn’t receive a response.
The UrthAccess site lists the company’s address as the Newport Office Center, a large office space in Newport Beach, California, that offers space to multiple small businesses.
Kristine Tran, the manager at the Newport Office Center, told NBC News that UrthAcess had “never been a tenant at our building.”
“I’ve never heard of them,” Tran said.