If there is one thing most people can agree on, it's that telemarketing calls are annoying. Most people have been woken up and disturbed many times by a phone call offering a better phone plan, some sort of magazine subscription, or other things they don't want.
How should you respond to telemarketers when they call? Before even considering legal remedies, think about these practical considerations:
- Be polite. Even when the telemarketer disturbs your dinner or favorite TV show, mind your manners and be nice. After speaking with you, telemarketers have the ability to schedule a call-back in several days, even minutes, by the simple push of a button on their computers. When someone is rude, they have no problem pressing this button, which means you'll likely be called again and again.
- Give the telemarketer a few seconds to tell you why he or she is calling. This goes with being polite. Some people automatically ask to be placed on a "do not call list" before the telemarketers even have a chance to explain why they're calling. For some companies, it goes against protocol to do so, and you'll likely get a call back in a few days.
- On many smartphones, such as an iPhone, you can easily "block" a phone number. So, if a number calls you that turns out to be a telemarketer, you can simply block it so that the number cannot call you again.
Are Telemarketers Regulated by Any Laws?
With so many phone calls, telemarketing can seem like the Wild West. Telemarketing is regulated at the federal level by two statutes: The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) and the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gets its authority from the TCPA. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces the TSR.
States can apply added restrictions tougher than the federal laws. Some common state laws include do-not-call lists, curfews, and license requirements. These can apply to the product in the telephone call. For example, credit cards and insurance are subject to additional laws. To the extent that telemarketers are reported to state agencies, the state attorney general's office will typically conduct an investigation and possibly bring charges.
Isn't There a "Do Not Call" Registry?
A Do Not Call Registry is a list of phone numbers from consumers who want to limit the telemarketing calls they receive. The national registry is managed by the FTC and some states have their own registries. Compliance is enforced by the FTC, the FCC, and state officials. It is illegal for most telemarketers to call phone numbers listed on a state or national Do Not Call registry.
Telemarketers are required to subscribe and pay the access fee to this registry. They also must search the registry at least once every 31 days and drop the phone numbers of people who have registered. It's against the law to call any number on the registry unless:
- the seller has an established business relationship with the consumer whose number is being called, or
- the consumer has consented to be called, in writing.
Telemarketers must subscribe to the registry and pay an annual fee to be able to call people in a particular area code. Otherwise, they may have to pay a fine. They must make sure their seller-clients have paid for access to the registry before placing any telemarketing calls on their behalf.
Unfortunately, merely asking a telemarketer to take you off of their calling list doesn't guarantee anything, even when they say they will. Telemarketing is usually done out of the phone book; there is often not a calling "list" to remove your name from.
Is It Illegal if I'm on the Do Not Call List and Still Get a Call?
While telemarketers are prevented from calling someone on the Do Not Call Registry and may be subject to civil penalties or sanctions if they do, there is some leeway. The TSR has a "safe harbor" for unintentional mistakes. If a seller or telemarketer can show that it meets all the requirements of the safe harbor, they won't have to pay the penalties if they mistakenly call someone on the registry.
To meet the safe harbor requirements, the seller or telemarketer must show it:
- has written procedures to comply with the do not call requirements
- trains its employees in those procedures
- monitors and enforces compliance with these procedures
- maintains a company-specific list of telephone numbers that it may not call
- accesses the national registry no more than 31 days before calling any consumer and maintains records documenting this process, and
- any call violating the do not call rules was an error, not intentional.
Will Being Put on a Do Not Call Registry Stop All Telemarketing Calls?
Unfortunately, signing up for a Do Not Call registry will not necessarily stop all calls. The National Do Not Call Registry does not cover calls from political organizations, charities, telephone surveyors, or companies where you have an existing business relationship.
Nonetheless, you can register your phone number and file a complaint if you continue to get telemarketer calls after 31 days on the Do Not Call website.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can I sue a telemarketer for repeat calls after I'm on the Do Not Call registry?
- Aren't telemarketers invading my privacy by calling so much? Can I sue for that?
- Is there a list I can put myself on that will stop all calls, including political ones?