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Companies face Indiana lawsuit for routing illegal robocalls

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana attorney general’s office has sued three companies — including one that operated from a trailer park — on allegations that they helped illegally route hundreds of millions of robocalls to U.S. households seeking to carry out a variety of scams.

In the lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in Indiana, the attorney general’s office said the companies facilitated the calls by scam artists operating from India, the Philippines and Singapore. The robocalls allegedly included attempted swindles such as IRS and Social Security Administration imposter scams, fraudulent Apple computer support calls and fake Amazon subscription contacts.

An Evansville, Indiana-based company named Startel Communication LLC, which had its business address in a trailer park, acted as a gateway for the overseas calls to enter the country, state Attorney General Todd Rokita said.

That now-defunct business arranged with two California telecommunications companies to route the robocalls throughout the country, Rokita said. The lawsuit blames Piratel LLC of Los Alamitos, California, for routing at least 3.1 million robocalls to Indiana numbers alone and that VoIP Essential LLC of Fremont, California, routed 1.3 million calls to Indiana.

“Both companies in California knew Startel was sending robocalls against Indiana and federal law, and both companies were each paid more than $100,000 to look the other way,” Rokita said.

Piratel said in a statement that it follows telecommunication industry procedures and worked with federal and state governments to identify and stop illegal robocalls. The company said it had not reviewed the lawsuit and declined to comment on its allegations.

The Associated Press sent a message seeking comment to the email address listed for the last registered agent with Startel’s Indiana business registration. No reply was immediately received to an email message sent to VoIP Essential.

Indiana officials said the California companies were warned about the robocalls during their investigation over the past year.

Doug Swetnam, head of the Indiana attorney general’s data privacy unit, said the companies weren’t “surprised by a few bad apples.”

“This is a situation where the industry itself was sending them message after message that ‘Hey you’re letting robo calls through,’ and they didn’t do anything about it,” Swetman said.

The companies involved potentially face billions of dollars in fines because of the large number of calls involved, the lawsuit said.

Startel, which was registered to an Evansville woman and a man from India, was dissolved last month, according to state business registration records.

Rokita said investigators were still looking into how the business operated and whether it was possible to collect any judgment against it.

“You just don’t walk into a trailer park and decide to set up a pretty complex national telecommunications company,” Rokita said. “Somebody must have told them something.”

By TOM DAVIES
Associated Press

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