Litigator Matthew Deblinger had been handed a seemingly impossible undertaking: Track down the parties responsible for spoofing his law firm’s phone number in hundreds of thousands of telemarketing calls selling insurance to unsuspecting Miami-Dade residents.
Spoofing is a process by which fraudsters mask their identity to make it appear as if their communication is coming from another source. In this case, international con artists used the law firm’s number to contact elderly targets and gather personal information to generate insurance sales.
“There were dozens of calls a minute,” Deblinger said. “It started with our phones ringing off the hook. We had no idea what was happening. Residents and business would say they had a missed call from our number. It was really a disruption to our business.”
The stakes were especially high for Deblinger, who joined Aballi Milne Kalil as an associate in September 2016, and was tasked by one of the firm’s partners, Craig Kalil, with restoring order. The law office that had become inundated with messages from confused callers around the same time he had started.
“We decided the only way to track down the phone spoofer was to file a lawsuit,” Deblinger recounted. The alternative — changing the phone number the international law firm had used for 25 years — was deemed unthinkable.
More than a year after filing an initial John Doe lawsuit in February 2017, Deblinger and his colleagues achieved two major victories.
First, despite the odds, he managed to identify the parties at fault — South African company Sidqcon Pty Ltd. and its phone provider, Delaware-based Telcast LLC and Telcast Networks LLC.
Then, in a later feat, he secured a $12,790,800 judgment against them before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Reemberto Diaz.
Read the motion for summary judgment:
‘No One Knew How to Catch These Guys’
Immediately after filing suit, Deblinger and several of the firm’s employees began investigating the source of their office’s woes. As the attorney sought help from telecom companies, the firm’s staff “spent entire days” fielding calls, juggling between irritated call recipients and actual clients.
The effort to track the spoofers spanned months, from February through July 2017.
“The hours were extensive,” said Deblinger, who had to forego billable hours for talks with phone companies and callers who’d been contacted by fraudsters using the firm’s number. “I wasn’t limited on the budget that I could expend in this case. We knew there was a learning curve involved to figure out how to track the spoofer, and the managing partner gave me carte blanche to get the result we wanted.”
Although he would not divulge the cost of their efforts, Deblinger said much of the time was spent conducting discovery and subpoenaing phone providers for their call records.
“We didn’t know we were going to find them,” he confessed. “Providers told us they’d hit a dead end as well. Verizon, AT&T, no one knew how to catch these guys.”
But after seven months spent reverse tracing phone calls and contacting an array of small and large phone providers alike, Deblinger and his colleagues had a major breakthrough: They learned in July 2017 that the calls had been facilitated by Telcast.
“[Telcast] came back to us and said, ‘Our client’s the phone spoofer. We’ll tell them to stop,’” Deblinger said.
How The Scam Worked
Although the company apologized for the problems, Deblinger demanded that Telcast hand over their records, which showed the firm’s phone number had been spoofed more than 10,000 times in three months.
The records helped Deblinger determine that the phone spoofer, Sidqcon, operates as a lead generator for insurance companies in the U.S. The calls usually target the elderly.
“The [Sidqcon employee] will pitch them different insurance packages to see if the person is interested,” Deblinger explained. ”If the elderly person says, ‘That sounds interesting,’ [Sidqcon] will take down any info they can and sell that info to insurance companies. It appears that they called about a million people a week in the U.S.”
After amending its complaint to name Telcast and Sidqcon, the firm filed a motion for summary judgment, which the judge granted.
Diaz’s order granted the full amount requested by the firm — $10,659,000 against Sidqcon for violations of the Florida Telemarketing Act and $2,131,800 against the defendants for tortious interference with business relationships.
Sidqcon and Telcast did not retain counsel in response to AMK’s complaint.
Read the final judgment:
“We don’t know the extent of the damage to our reputation,” Deblinger said. “If you Googled our number it’d show somebody reported it as a scam number.”
Nonetheless, Deblinger is happy to see the issue resolved and remains confident in AMK’s ability to collect on the award.
“We believe this sends a strong message to phone spoofers,” he said. “It needs to stop.”
Sidqcon and Telcast representatives did not respond to requests for comment by press time.