February 2, 2023

TCPA & how it protects you from robocalls

TCPA & how it protects you from robocalls

Many people know the irritation and frustration of having their day interrupted by an unwanted robocall. And it's increasingly a problem. According to Robokiller Insights, robocall volumes aren't just growing — they're positively exploding:

  • Americans receive more than 1.4 billion robocalls per week.
  • 1.2 billion of them happen during weekdays.
  • More than 200 million occur on weekends.
  • That breaks down to over 100,000 robocalls per minute.

To make things worse, most of these robocalls are placed by rogue actors with malicious intent — meaning they're not just annoying, they're dangerous. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the median amount of money lost in robocall-related scams is $1,500. 

All told, Robokiller estimates Americans lost about $65 billion to this type of fraud in 2022 alone, an unfortunate trend that shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

That, in essence, is why laws like the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) are so important. They're designed to keep a rein on robocalls in many ways, all of which are more than worth exploring.

Know your rights so you can stop the harassing phone calls

As stated, virtually nobody likes receiving spam-based or otherwise harassing phone calls. That's a big part of why the Telephone Consumer Protection Act was passed into federal law in the first place. Not only does it help restrict the types of abusive solicitation methods commonly used over the phone, but it also gives consumers a voice in challenging them in the event they occur.

Under the current version of the TCPA, a telemarketer must get consent before they're able to contact you for these purposes. The type of consent required, however, depends on the technology being used. This includes how someone is making contact, what type of device they’re attempting to contact, and even the content of the message they want to send.

Spam calls, for example, are distinctive calls placed without permission from the recipient. Robocalls, on the other hand, are usually auto-dialed from a computer. They deliver a prerecorded message and are typically designed to invite interaction between the recipient and the caller through voice or keypad input.

Because of the TCPA, telemarketers and even debt collectors are forbidden to call any consumers before 8:00 am and after 9:00 pm. If you're contacted by a telemarketer, they also need to give you their name, the name of the business they're working for, and a telephone number or address you can use to establish further contact if needed.

What's the TCPA and what good does it do?

Originally enacted in 1991, the TCPA was designed to place restrictions on the types of robocalls that not just telemarketers can make but also businesses, debt collectors, and even political campaigns. It regulates the use of automated dialing and prerecorded voice messages as they pertain to:

  • Cell phones
  • Residential phone lines
  • Text messages
  • Unsolicited faxes

Congress initially passed the TCPA as a direct response to a then-increasing number of consumer complaints about these types of calls. A year later, they adjusted the TCPA to include a requirement that telemarketers who make these types of calls need to maintain company-specific do-not-call lists.

In 2003, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the FTC established the National Do Not Call registry. At the time, it was a revolutionary solution designed with a noble purpose in mind, as per the FCC's website:

“The national registry is nationwide in scope, covers all telemarketers (except for certain nonprofit organizations), and applies to both interstate and intrastate calls.”

Some of the most significant changes to the TCPA in recent memory occurred in 2012. From that time forward, telemarketers were required to:

  • Get prior, express written consent from consumers before a robocall is placed.
  • Not rely on any "established business relationship" to sidestep the need to obtain such consent.
  • Provide an automated, interactive way for someone to opt out of receiving further robocalls during each interaction.
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What types of phone calls does the TCPA protect you from?

All told, the TCPA helps to protect consumers from a few different types of calls, all of which are common. These include the following examples:

Robocalls to residential phone lines

The TCPA entirely prohibits prerecorded messages made to a residential telephone line. Keep in mind, however, that the law only applies to solicitations from telemarketers who you do not already have an "established business relationship" with.

If you’ve done any business with an organization in the last 18 months or made an inquiry about their products or services in the previous three months, they're allowed to contact you under the law. Keep that in mind moving forward.

Robocalls to cell phones without prior consent

The original version of the TCPA held much more power in an era before most consumers used a cell phone as their primary communication tool. Thankfully, the TCPA has been updated to take that into account. It now prohibits using robocalls or spam-based text messages on both personal and professional cell phones.

Any time an automated robocall or text message is made to your cell phone without consent, someone is violating the TCPA. The exception is if you had previously given the robocaller permission to call. In that case, the call itself would be legal. However, all you have to do is notify the telemarketer (or an entity like a debt collector) that they should stop calling you, and you have officially revoked that access.

Robocalls to phone numbers on the Do Not Call Registry

Finally, the TCPA prohibits calls made to phone numbers already on the aforementioned Do Not Call Registry. The TCPA prohibits someone from contacting you for any reason, provided you are on this list. 

Note that you can put both your cell phone and your residential line on the Do Not Call Registry using the service's official website.

Recent changes and updates to the TCPA

As is true with virtually any legislation, the TCPA is updated regularly to align with modern expectations. The most influential update stems from a recent Supreme Court case titled Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid. Essentially, the outcome of the case significantly narrowed the scope of what can be considered an ATDS or "autodialer" device. Now, the only equipment defined as such is a device that can a) store a telephone number using a random or sequential number generator or b) produce a telephone number using the same means.

Because of this, it's now more difficult to successfully file a claim under the TCPA in many areas, leaving states to try to come up with their own solutions. Today, most claims have to do with a number of issues like:

  • The types of prerecorded messages that people commonly receive.
  • Artificial voice calls
  • Ringless voicemail callsT
  • Violations of the National Do Not Call Registry

Beyond that, the conversation has continued about whether a text message should be viewed the same as a call — something that would impact whether these types of unwanted marketing messages are handled under the TCPA. In 2003, for example, the FCC indicated that a text message does, in fact, equal a call. In the aforementioned Supreme Court Case, Clarence Thomas indicated that he wasn't sure this should necessarily be the case, possibly hinting at further changes to the TCPA that will be handled through the court system in the not-too-distant future.

Suspect someone has violated TCPA/robocall compliance? Here's what you can do...

Has the TCPA effectively stopped unwanted telemarketing phone calls to consumers since it was initially passed into law? Not exactly.

As you’re probably aware, there are more than a few spam calls that slip through the cracks on a daily basis. Since 1991, claims filed under the TCPA have exploded in volume. It's actually the second most common type of litigation filed in federal court.

If you’re wondering if you can pursue litigation, start by collecting the following pieces of information:

  • A record of phone calls and voicemails from callers
  • A written record of the date and times of the calls, as well as the caller's identity and a summary of any conversation you had
  • A copy of any letters you may have sent to callers revoking consent for them to make automated calls

At that point, you can file a complaint or take all of this information to an attorney if you think it may be more appropriate to file a lawsuit.*

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What about calls the TCPA can't prevent?

Ultimately, it’s important to keep in mind that the TCPA can only regulate organizations that follow the law to begin with. Scam artists tend not to care about things like federal legislation one way or the other. 

Several core challenges still prevent the TCPA from completely stopping robocalls, including caller ID spoofing. Also commonly referred to as phone spoofing, caller ID spoofing involves a caller using a different phone number than the one they actually have to place a call. This is why sometimes you may get a call from your own number.

Not only are these calls tough to trace (especially if they're being placed from out of the country), but the scammers themselves are at minimal risk of getting caught. Spoofed numbers can show up on your phone in a variety of different ways, including but not limited to:

  • Blocked caller ID
  • "No Caller ID"
  • Unknown Caller ID
  • Random phone number
  • Phone number from a local area code
  • The recipient's own phone number

Because each spoofed call can be placed from a unique fake number, these types of robocalls are close to impossible to trace and prevent. This also makes the scammers who initiate these calls nearly impossible to pursue.

What solutions can help you stop spam calls?

If your ultimate goal is to stop spam calls once and for all (or at least, as much as realistically possible), there are a few key steps you can take.

Revoke consent

Telemarketers require consent to call you. If you'd prefer they didn't, you can revoke that consent by sending them a letter requesting they not contact you in the future.

Opt out

You can also opt out of calls from a specific caller. Per the FCC, telemarketing calls must give you the option to opt out of receiving future animated calls. The opportunity to opt out should be available on your device. For text messages, this usually involves texting "STOP" or a similar phrase to the number you received the message from.

Join the Do Not Call List

If you haven't already done so, head to this website and add yourself to the National Do Not Call Registry. You can also call 888-382-1222, but you must use the same phone number you're trying to register. So, if you want to add both your home landline and your personal cell phone, you would have to make two different calls.

If you register online, you MUST follow the link in the confirmation email that will be sent to you to complete the process. If you're still getting these unwanted calls after 30 days have passed from the moment you registered, you can file a complaint directly with the Federal Trade Commission.

What the TCPA can't do, Robokiller can

In the end, the TCPA is a powerful piece of legislation — but it has its limitations. Technology tends to evolve faster than the laws, and every time officials think they've closed up all the gaps that scammers are exploiting, new ones appear. That's why even the FTC recommends downloading a third-party mobile app to help prevent scammers from reaching your phone, and that’s a role Robokiller is proud to serve.

Robokiller is a powerful tool that uses audio fingerprinting technology to get to the root of your spam call problem. Each spam call you receive has a unique fingerprint that the app uses to match, identify, and add to a global blocklist. This is true even if the calls originate from different phone numbers. The more numbers are added, the more powerful the list gets, protecting customers across the country in milliseconds.

Robokiller also uses Answer Bots to make scammers think they're talking to real human callers, effectively turning the tables on them in the best possible way. Robokiller intercepts millions of calls every month using this method.

So while the TCPA does a lot to help protect consumers from robocallers, it should be seen as an incomplete solution. Robokiller helps fill the gaps in a way that keeps you safe from those out there who wish to do you harm.

Robokiller is the #1 robocall blocking app and the best solution to end your unwanted call problem. Besides protecting you from spam calls and robocalls through real-time caller identification, our app even gets on the phone to fight scammers for you with hilarious Answer Bots. Ready to live life spam-call-free? Click here to start your free 7-day trial of Robokiller!

*The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, the information made available on this site is for general informational purposes only. Please refrain from acting on the basis of information on this site without first seeking legal advice from legal counsel.

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