Just when there are 3 seconds in the game, and this last play determines the victor, the phone rings. You are interrupted at the special moment when you want no distractions. As you probably already know, so many people complained about calls from unknown marketers of products that the federal government responded with a Do- Not-Call-Registry. The legal source for the Registry is the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), and incorporates the administrative efforts of both the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FCC provides the administrative rules for implementing the TCPA. The scope includes both national and international telemarketing calls. If your name is on the Registry, commercial telemarketers are prohibited from calling you (or at least must remove your name from their call list within 31 days from your registration). The service is free, with no need to renew your name. Just call 1-888-382-1222 (voice) or 1-866-290-4236 (TTY) or visit the FCC website. All that sounds great. Renewed faith in the government that it can work.
The problem is the same as with any legislation – the exceptions. At first glance the exceptions all appear quite reasonable and manageable. Calls are allowed under the following circumstances:
- calls from organizations with which you have established a business relationship;
- calls for which you have given prior written permission;
- calls which are not commercial or do not include unsolicited advertisements; or
- calls by or on behalf of tax-exempt non-profit organizations.
So when you ask: “Why do I receive so many marketing robo-calls?” – the answer is because those exceptions are overly broad, letting too many entities call you. The fear of any statutory goal to solve a problem is that exceptions become so large they unwittingly defeat the intent of the curative statute.
So my first recommendation is that you use the legally permissible ways to personally narrow the exceptions to conform to the intent of the legislation – give consumers real choice on just how many such calls they wish to receive and from whom. But first a threshold matter.
Complaint Process. The recommendations I consider primary are those that prevent the telemarketer calls in the first place. Secondary remedies are those that help avoid repeat performances by unwanted telemarketers. In secondary cases, there is an easy telephonic complaint process. Call 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322). There is also an online form:http://www.fcc.gov/complaints
State Actions for Damages and Awards. States have their own Consumer Protection Acts, most of which have remedies that allow consumers to recover damages and expenses for egregious violators. A quick Google search of “consumer protection act – (name of state)” should take you quickly to the relevant information.
For guidance on related federal laws that the telemarketers may have violated see the FCC’s Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau at:http://www.fcc.gov/consumer-governmental-affairs-bureau and the link to Consumer Guides, also viewable athttp://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/consumer-publications-library#Fraud. One section lists federal sources for “Frauds, Scams and Alerts”. Good reading for those who believe knowledge is power.
So I will note some of those telemarketer requirements below, and just refer you to follow that process when violations are evident. For example, the law requires that the telemarketers not call before 8 AM or after 9 PM. If the complaint number is in your smart phone contacts, it becomes as easy as calling home.
Reduce Business Relationship Calls – Don’t Give Your Number to Stores: You can still receive calls from those with whom you have an established business relationship (EBR). The FCC rules define EBR broadly, including anyone with whom you have made an inquiry, application, purchase or transaction regarding products or services offered by that company. So if you are at a retail store and you give them your number, even if you don’t buy anything you are likely to get a call from them. So just don’t give your number to the stores or all those other companies and individuals that solicit you. You already know how to find them. Add them to your own contacts if they are frequent places of interest but retain control of your number. If you give your number to them, they gain a measure of control and legal permission to pester you at will. That is a better remedy than being in the reactionary mode. Once you give them access, you are left with telling them to stop the solicitations. Jealously guarding your number prevents even the first call.
Enforce Your EBR Expiration Rights. The EBR automatically expires by law 18 months after your last business transaction or three months after your last inquiry or application. After these time periods, calls placed to your home phone number or numbers are illegal. So with your very smart phone, you can smarty create a list in your Notes section for all your “Done With Them” companies, with dates of your last communication. When you get the call, you check your list, and make the complaint call.
Read Fine Print on Permissions. Companies know they can avoid the call prohibition if they have your permission. Put yourself in the position of a marketer being paid from volume business. You would bury a carefully worded permission clause at the end of one of the many mailers, or on anything you purchase. You would then be assured of getting the greatest results by making a consumer’s permission the default, requiring the affirmative act of the consumer to opt out. So as with any other document, look at the bottom of the document and any smaller font language. All the FCC rules require in implementing the law is that there be a signed writing that the consumer “states that the consumer agrees to be contact by this seller.” The rule expands a “signed” writing to include an electronic signature. That would allow a seller to have fine print that states words such as “You hereby agree that your name below is sufficient signatory consent to future communications under the FCC rules.” Words to that effect appear to be sufficient under the FCC rules.
Nonprofit Solicitations. The FCC held public hearings before implementing the rules, and was convinced that the bulk of telephonic marketing solicitations are from commercial enterprises. So they allowed nonprofits to be exempt from the rules. The only major restriction is that the exempt entities must have received tax exempt status from presumably either the IRS or under state law.
Caller ID. At minimal additional cost, your home phone can include CALLER ID so you know when a telemarketer is calling you. And telemarketers are required to transmit Caller ID information and may not block their numbers.
At the end of the day’s calls, the best way for us to minimize those unsolicited marketing calls is to proactively prevent marketer access to our so-called private telephone numbers, hard wired or wireless. But once the solicitors gain access, we are left to then proactively stopping the conversation. You know it’s the telemarketer when you hear the 2-second delay they are required to program into their system. Then before you tell them how well your day was going just before this call, you nicely say “Please take me off your call list.” If the calls persist, you have the complaint numbers listed above readily available in your smart phone. And if a particularly egregious circumstance arises, the state consumer protection act where you reside and legally domiciled is the next step. So here’s to your future call-free dinner tranquility.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.