Recorded calls that went out to thousands of cell phone owners in North Dakota on Tuesday were illegal, according to the North Dakota Attorney General's Office.
The robo-calls sought information about people's presidential candidate preferences, although some cell-phone holders were not of voting age. Robo-calls are illegal in North Dakota unless a live operator places the call and asks the recipient's permission to play the recording.
"We are investigating," said Parrell Grossman, director of the Attorney General's consumer protection division. "The robo-calls are clearly illegal and in violation of North Dakota's Do Not Call laws."
Grossman said his department has traced the calls to PAETEC, a telecommunications firm in New York state. The company leased the phone number from which the calls were made to another company, Bandwidth.com Inc. of North Carolina. Using the subpoena process, the Attorney General's Office continued on Wednesday to investigate and peel back the layers to get to the original client. If the original client is found to be based in the United States, the state will take serious enforcement action, Grossman said. Because companies generally aren't cooperative in these types of investigations and the number of layers can be extensive, it is uncertain how long it will take to complete the investigation, he said.
Federal law prohibits wireless companies from giving out subscriber's cell phone numbers. It is likely that the automated calling system used random number combinations based on North Dakota's area code and the prefixes used by cell phone companies in the state, Grossman said. The random mixes eventually hit on active numbers and calls were going through.