Telephone Consumer Protection Act Restricts Robocalling
Keeping Robots in their Place
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 USC, Section 227 is a federal law that places certain restrictions on the use of auto dialers by telemarketers and debt collectors. The law imposes detailed requirements on those who are the masters over the robots that are gradually invading our lives and privacy. Who hasn’t been awakened from a nice refreshing nap by these rude calls?
Anyone who has seen “I, Robot” with Will Smith knows just how menacing those robots can be. Some respected scientists don’t dismiss the idea of robots someday taking over from us. Let’s start the fight against robots by fighting with Robocalling debt collectors and telemarketers.
TCPA Provides Protection Against Telemarketers, Debt Collectors
The national Do Not Call Registry, Telephone Number Blocking, and Caller ID sometimes seem to get outwitted by telemarketers and debt collectors. The TCPA provides these basic consumer protections that limit the use of auto dialing systems:
- Calls cannot be made before 8 AM or after 9 PM
- The National Do Not Call Registry will be honored
- Callers must identify themselves by name, reveal on whose behalf they are calling and furnish a telephone number and address at which they may be reached
- No artificial voices or recordings may be used
- Calls for which the recipient will be charged are forbidden
- No advertising faxes
And the Penalties for Violation are…
Up to $1500.00 in fines. Higher penalties are imposed for repeated willful violations. Attorney fees will be awarded separately to plaintiff’s lawyer. Sellers who authorize telemarketers may also be liable as well as the telemarketers themselves. The law is sometimes broadly construed. (that means consumer friendly). It may even be enforced by State Courts if the Complaint is filed there by consumers and lawyers who feel more comfortable away from the always intimidating federal venue. Lawsuits under the TCPA more than doubled in February of 2013.
New Devices Thwart Robocalls
Inventive people are responding to the challenge of robocallers. New devices have been invented that have not yet reached the market. The FTC recently sponsored a Robocall challenge with a $50,000.00 prize. The prize was shared by 2 people. Each came up with machine learning systems that use algorithms to build databases of unacceptable numbers. Google engineers are said to be crowd sourcing a database of annoying telemarketers.
Since robocalls generate 200,000 complaints a month it has become a hot button issue. Emerging technology has made it possible to send out millions of calls instantly.
Debt collectors have additional legal barriers to robocalling that don’t apply to telemarketers. Debt collectors cannot make any robocalls at all to cell phones. This law is strictly enforced. It is a source of great worry to debt collectors who fear getting tripped up by the increasing portability of telephone numbers. I know this because I’ve been able to eavesdrop on several of their conferences. Cell phone numbers are not listed in the usual sense. 39 percent of homes are now cell phone only.
Spam Text Messages Now Included Under TCPA Protections (Update to Original Essay)
Thanks to the lawsuits of aggressive consumer advocates robo texting now comes under the protection of the telephone consumer protection act. The law now specifically prohibits sending to cell phones unauthorized canned SMS and text messages generated by a computer. What is allowed?
- Individual texts sent by a business that actually types and sends them
- Texts sent by emergency authorities
- Texts protected by the First Amendment such as those from political campaigns, pollsters and most not for profit organizations
- Texts companies send you with your “expressed consent.” This consent must be in writing but that writing can be electronic. Watch out for tricks when responding to polls, drawings and any offers that seem too good to be true.
Question of the day: Who would do business in the first place with a company that sends junk texts?
The awards are not large but it’s a great opportunity for new lawyers to build their practice.