FCC: alleged fake Post Office calls to cost Alpharetta firm millions

An Alpharetta firm and three related companies face fines totalling $29.6 million for allegedly targeting Hispanic customers and adding unauthorized charges to their long-distance telephone bills, according to federal regulators.

The Federal Communications Commission said Alpharetta-based OneLink Communications and three related firms in Florida and Nevada allegedly engaged in “fraudulent, deceptive and manipulative practices that targeted consumers with Hispanic surnames.”

The FCC, which regulates the telecommunications industry, said the companies also tried to obstruct the agency’s investigation. The agency said the firms fabricated audio recordings and sent them as fraudulent proof that customers had authorized the charges and changes to new carriers.

To get the recordings, the FCC said, the companies’ telemarketers in many cases posed as employees of the U.S. Postal Service notifying customers about package deliveries. In some cases, the callers’ telephone numbers were rigged to show up as the postal service on victims’ caller ID, the agency said.

“To put it mildly, OneLink’s conduct was appalling,” FCC Commissioner Ajit Pia said in an FCC filing seeking the fines. He said the agency should also consider revoking the company’s authorization to offer telephone service in the United States.

“For conduct this egregious, the book should be thrown,” he said.

The companies’ attorney disputed the FCC’s allegations, calling the investigation biased and politically motivated.

“We intend to vigorously defend against the baseless claims, mis-represented factual circumstances and trumped-up fines,” said the companies’ attorney, Michael Donahue.

More than 140 people filed complaints to the FCC complaining that the companies switched their long-distance carriers without permission — a practice known as “slamming” — and “crammed” their bills, or added unauthorized charges.

The agency said OneLink, which faces an $8 million fine, manages the other three firms as one operation from an office in Alpharetta. The other firms have no employees, the FCC said.

The other three firms being fined are TeleDias Communications, in Reno, Nev.; and TeleUno and Cytel, both in Pompano Beach, Fla. The FCC proposed a nearly $7.7 million fine against TeleDia, $9.6 million against TeleUno, and $4.3 million against Cytel.

The FCC proposed the fines Friday in a filing called a “Notice of Apparent Liability and Forfeiture.” The notice gives the companies 30 days to pay or challenge the fines and respond to the allegations.

The FCC said it also may initiate proceedings to revoke the companies’ operating authorizations.

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