You come home from work and you find a slew of voicemail messages, and the calls all have automated voices. Your iPhone may even warn you of “scam likely” on some of the calls.
How do you stop these automated calls, also known as “robocalls?” Or can you? What if they’re perfectly legal?
If you’re being targeted by unwanted phone calls, generally to sell you something, and you can’t get them to stop even when you’ve taken every legal option available, it may be time to consult an attorney familiar with phone harassment. If you’re in Kansas City, Missouri, Kansas City, Kansas, or Lincoln, Nebraska, contact our team at Stecklein & Rapp immediately.
What is the Law Regarding Telemarketing Calls?
If you answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, that’s a robocall, most likely sent from an autodialer.
According to the National Consumer Law Center, Americans received an estimated 45,866,949,500 robocalls in 2020. That’s billions.
Robocallers are getting so sophisticated these days that they can even fake the phone ID you see on the cell or landline phone’s screen. They may be calling from 2,000 miles away, but the caller ID will show your local area code. It may even look like a call from a government agency. This is a new technique called “spoofing.”
If you get a robocall that is aimed at selling you something, then that call is illegal unless you’ve given them written permission to make such calls.
Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel of the Federal Communications Commission, with authority over policing robocalls and enforcing relevant laws, just announced new robocall initiatives, including the launch of a Robocall Response Team, and new partnerships with state agencies to stem the proliferation of automated calls.
In a report on robocalls issued in February 2019, the FCC said it had fielded 232,000 robocall complaints in the previous year. The same report noted that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which administers the national Do Not Call Directory, received 5,780,172 Do Not Call complaints (3,790,614 of which were classified as robocalls)the same year.
What Is and Isn’t Permitted
As mentioned, sales calls that you have not given written consent to receive are illegal, but other forms of robocalls are permissible, including:
- Purely informational calls: An automated call reminding you of a flight schedule or an upcoming appointment, for example, is permitted.
- Debt collector calls: Debt collectors may use robocalls to contact you about your obligations, but anyone trying to sell you a service to reduce your debt is not allowed.
- Political calls: Calls from political campaigns during election cycles.
- Calls from some health care providers: Doctors, dentists, and pharmacies may use robocalls to remind you of appointments or prescription refills.
- Charitable messages: Charities are free to make calls themselves, but if they hire an outside firm, that firm must call only previous donors or members of the charity organization and provide an automated way to stop future calls.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act
Congress took action to place restrictions on unsolicited, pre-recorded telemarketing calls with the passage of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) of 1991. The TCPA restricts robocallers from:
- Making calls before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
- Contacting you if you have opted out of their service or have entered your number into the national Do Not Call List
- Sending unsolicited fax messages to your home or office
- Refusing to provide their name, the name of the person or organization on whose behalf they’re calling, or the contact information for that person or organization
What to Do If You Get a Robocall
If you answer the phone and hear an automated voice, just hang up. Even if the voice asks you to push a certain button to opt out, don’t do it. That is often a ruse to put you on a list for future calls. Also, even if it asks a simple question that calls for a “yes” response — “Do you wish to be removed from these calls?” — don’t answer, just hang up. Report the call to the FTC at donotcall.gov.
The FTC also provides online videos on how to block callers on a traditional landline, a cell phone, or a VOIP (voice over internet protocol) line at home. Be proactive and block numbers. The catch here these days is that through spoofing, telemarketers and spammers can change the phone ID each time they call.
The 2020 Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act, or TRACED Act, increased fines on spam robocallers from $1,500 to as much as $10,000 per illegal call. Enforcement is the problem, however, as many robocallers have just moved operations offshore and out of the reach of U.S. laws.
Unfortunately, scammers also pay no attention to the Do Not Call Registry or even to new penalty levels, so you may have to take matters a step further by consulting with an attorney if the calls do not cease.
Experienced Phone Harassment Attorneys
The TPCA allows you to sue any individual or firm that continues to make automated calls once you’ve asked them to stop.
One of the biggest consumer actions against robocallers in history involved Dish Network, which made more than 65 million robocalls over a two-year period. In 2017, a Dish Network was ordered to pay $280 million in fines to the federal government and four states. In addition, a class-action lawsuit netted consumers a judgment of $61 million, or $1,200 for each call made to someone on the Dot Not Call Registry. Some individuals received as much as $18,000.
If you can’t get illegal robocalls to stop, contact us immediately at Stecklein & Rapp (formerly known as Consumer Legal Clinic, LLC). Our experienced consumer protection attorneys will help you exercise every option available. We serve clients in Kansas City, Missouri, Kansas City, Kansas, and Lincoln, Nebraska.