Telemarketing Robo-Calls: Still Happening, Still Annoying
The Missouri Attorney General has sued a company for making automated telephone solicitations, or “robo-calls,” in violation of the state’s no-call law.
Hello! You Have Been Selected to Be Annoyed
After receiving more than a thousand complaints from people since March, Missouri AG Chris Koster is suing St. Louis-based Pure Air Inc., d.b.a. Air Duct Cleaning, and its president, Noach Palatnik, according to a press release from Koster’s office.
Koster alleges that Pure Air used robo-calls to make thousands of calls to St. Louis area residents, many of whom asked the company to stop calling them, only to receive dozens more calls. A company representative told one consumer that Pure Air was not subject to Missouri’s no-call law.
Koster is demanding that the company stop calling consumers who’ve registered on the state’s no-call list and pay a penalty of $5,000 per violation of Missouri’s no-call law, along with fees and costs.
Push “1” If You Thought Federal Law Already Covered This
It does – the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) was passed in 1991, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has enacted regulations restricting robo-calls, explains Christine Corcos, a law professor at the LSU Law Center who teaches media law.
The Federal Trade Commission, working with the FCC, maintains the federal no-call program, which began in 2003, according to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), which assists marketers in understanding the rules.
While consumers who sign up for the national no-call list can avoid many telemarketing calls, the rules allow some to slip through. “You have to wait 31 days after registering before telemarketers are actually violating the law if they call you,” points out Corcos. “Your registration for that phone number does not expire.”
But then, in general, certain categories of companies can still call you without violating the rules, she says: Organizations you’ve previously done business with, those you’ve given written permission to call you, companies that call you for non-commercial purposes, and non-profits.
“If you don’t want to receive calls from any of these groups or persons, you have to tell them not to call you again, and they must honor your request,” she adds. “You can also register to be on a list to avoid calls from a specific company.”
Push “2” If You’re Wondering If This Really Works
“I think legitimate businesses pay close attention to the do-not-call registry,” Corcos says. “What seems to be happening over and over is that thousands of people are getting phone calls from entities that are not really legitimate businesses making telemarketing calls.”
She says such calls are often pre-recorded and use deceptive numbers for caller-IDs: “The people who make these calls are not following the law; they don’t have a pre-existing relationship with the individuals they are calling, for example.”
The best thing consumers can do to stop the practice is to hang up and register a complaint with the FCC. “When the FCC gets a critical mass of complaints, it can proceed,” she says. The FCC can investigate violations of the TCPA but can’t award damages to consumers.
Push “3” for Extra State Protections
While there are some limits in the federal law as to what they can do, states like Missouri can add additional protections to the federal ones, and some of those protections provide for money damages to consumers. “The federal law doesn’t pre-empt the entire area,” Corcos explains. “[S]tates may impose more limits on telemarketers, including on the use of recorded messages.”
“Many states have Do Not Call laws that apply to residents of those states,” according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. “According to the FCC, these laws will still apply when the state’s rules are stricter than the national rules. The federal rules constitute a floor. They override all less-restrictive state Do Not Call rules.”
“Since the launch of the federal Do Not Call List in 2003, some states have discontinued individual do-not-call programs, merging their information with the federal list,” according to the DMA. “Other states continue to maintain separate do-not-call lists, whose registrants may or may not be shared with the federal list.”
More information about do-not-call laws in your state can be found on the DMA’s website.