An Uncertain Future for Telemarketing

Earlier this year there was a lot of news about Minnesota putting its do-not-call list into place. People could call, […]

Earlier this year there was a lot of news about Minnesota putting its do-not-call list into place. People could call, have their names put on a list, and presumably businesses, which were supposed to purchase the list, would follow the rules and not call anyone whose name was on the list. It seemed like a good idea. Unfortunately, for many of us, those unwanted calls have only increased, and it doesn’t look like they will decrease all that much any time soon.

While this continues to be an annoyance, there are options. You can purchase a caller I.D. service, allowing you to screen calls and not answer “out of the area” or “unknown” numbers. There are devices available, like the Tele-Zapper, that supposedly wipes your number from telemarketer’s computer database. I have chosen to tell all my friends not to expect me to answer my phone before 9:00 p.m., as the law does prohibit telemarketers from calling before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m., but that I will be checking my voicemail for messages and returning calls throughout the day. I have also opted to utilize my voicemail for solicitation refusal.

Then something made me take another lo ok at this issue. When the government was considering passage of the do-not-call list legislation, the Telemarketers Association came forward with all kinds of reasons why this law would cost them money and cost people their jobs. What hit home was when I heard how it would harm the disability community the most if telemarketers were prohibited from making calls, as many of the current telemarketing positions are held by people with disabilities who are unable to find other work. What will those individuals do if their positions are cut? One of the Association’s officers went on to opine in an interview with the National Disability Compliance Bulletin that the new laws would cause such confusion for telemarketers as to whom they could call and whom they could not; it would be too confusing to train people with disabilities. In other words, people with disabilities would be among the first to be laid off, apparently on the basis of having disabilities. Of course we could sit back and gleefully file complaints under state laws and the ADA, but ultimately I considered this argument so disingenuous that I decided to comment on this issue.

Minnesota State law and the federal law are very similar. If you’ve already signed up for Minnesota’s do-not-call list, you don’t have to register for the federal list. Your name would presumably be included. Of course, if you distrust that this would carry over, you can sign up for both lists, but the objective is for both lists to merge.

Registration

To register for Minnesota’s do-not-call list, you must call 1-800-921-4110 directly from the number you want to register. There seems to be no listed TTY number. You can also sign up on the web by visiting http://www.commerce.state.mn.us. To register on the federal do-not-call list, call 1-888-382-1122 (v.) or 1-866-290-4236 (TTY). You can also sign up on the web by visiting https://www.donotcall.gov/default.aspx. Telemarketers covered by either law only have to buy the do-not-call lists every 90days. Your registration will remain on the state list for four years and the federal list for five years unless you call to have your name removed. After that time presumably you have to re-register.

Who Is Covered by the Law?

To understand the complexity of this issue, it is necessary to analyze which businesses are not covered by these laws.

An organization can call you if it has an “established business relationship” with you. That means if you’ve done business with a company, (such as hiring it to clean carpets) the company can call you again to try to get you to allow them to clean your carpets in the next year. I’ve noticed that many of businesses are claiming all kinds of business relationships with consumers to get around this clause, or they’re simply ignoring it and calling anyway.

If a company is simply calling to tell you about their service and to set up an appointment if you want to learn more, the company in question doesn’t even have to purchase the do-not-call list. It’s then up to you to say you don’t want the service. If you continue to not answer they can continue to call because you haven’t told the company you’re not interested and do not want to be called again. Of course, the reason telemarketing calls have increased because all the companies who used to hang up if you didn’t answer now leave messages about their services with a request that you call them back. I hear from Satellite Direct t.v. weekly, and just last week I was called by Tasha from Great Expectations to see if I wanted information about their dating service.

Nonprofit, tax-exempt charities and political campaigns are exempt and do not have to buy the do-not-call list. So, you will still continue to get dozens of calls right before an election.

If telemarketers use automatic dialing systems, no more than two seconds is supposed to elapse after a consumer answers the phone before the phone is answered by the telemarketer. I still get lots of calls that are just dead air when I pick up.

Filing Complaints

If a telemarketer chooses to ignore the law and persists in calling you, both state and federal laws require you to file a complaint in writing, either by pulling up a complaint form from the web or by sending a letter. This is because in order to build a case against a telemarketer they need written evidence. For Minnesota complaints either use the complaint form on http://www.commerce.state.mn.us, or send your written complaint to: Mike Panell, Department of Commerce, 850 Seventh Place East, St. Paul, MN 55101. I’ve found no information about requesting forms or materials in alternative formats.For the federal list, e-mail complaints to donotcall@fcc.gov, or send it USPS to Federal Communications Commission, Consumer and Government Affairs Bureau, Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division, 445 12th Street s.w., Washington D.C. 20554. If you want the complaint or materials in alternative formats, e-mail the FCC at fcc504@fcc.gov. The complaint must contain your name and address, the phone number on which you received the call, the company and product involved, the date and time on which the call came, and, if the caller is wanting you to call back to set up an appointment, whether or not you let them know you did not want such calls.

The agencies will investigate the complaint. If they find that the telemarketer violated the law, the department involved will either attempt to get a consent decree from the company to stop or go to a hearing. At a hearing the agencies can collect up to $1,000 in civil penalties. The consumer who filed the complaint can collect nothing in damages by such a complaint. Whether or not the consumer can file a private lawsuit is an open question. Neither law provides a specific remedy of filing a private action, but neither law precludes it. People will have to continue trying to file lawsuits, as they had to under the Air Carriers Access Act, until courts start recognizing a private right of action. And if telemarketing companies start targeting people with disabilities for downsizing, a whole other crop of issues will arise within the telemarketing industry. Another thing you might want to do is check out http://www.antitelemarketers.com. This is a listserve with a group of forums talking about various telemarketing issues and how people have individually dealt with those issues along with ideas about boycotting companies that continue to ignore the laws. For now, though, it seems likely that there are enough loopholes to keep the telemarketers busy for the foreseeable future.

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