Robocall Laws & TCPA Regulations 101: Know Your Rights So You Can Prevent Harassing Phone Calls
We’re all too familiar with robocalls, right? And, if you feel like you’re getting more of them it’s because you are. In 2019, there were 63 billion robocalls made to smartphones in the United States. That’s over a 20% increase from 2018!
With as many robocalls as there are, it’s hard to imagine that there could actually be way more of them. We’re not saying that it can’t get better, but we will introduce you to one of the solutions that have been keeping a rein on robocalls. Legislation.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)
Since 1991, the TCPA-regulations have placed restrictions on robocalls made by telemarketers, businesses, debt collectors, and political campaigns. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act works to restrict robocalls, and it regulates the use of automated dialing and pre-recorded voice messages, otherwise known as robocalls, with regard to:
- Cell phones
- Residential phone lines
- Text messages
- Unsolicited faxes
Passed by Congress in response to an increasing number of consumer complaints about telemarketers and debt collector phone calls, the primary purpose of TCPA regulations is to reduce robocalls. In 1991, Congress enacted the TCPA to restrict the use of automatic telephone dialing systems and artificial or prerecorded voice messages.
One year later, Congress followed up by including the requirement that telemarketers that make telephone solicitations must institute procedures for maintaining company-specific do-not-call lists.
Then, in 2003, the FCC and FTC combined to establish the national Do-Not-Call registry. You’re probably familiar. “The national registry is nationwide in scope, covers all telemarketers (with the exception of certain nonprofit organizations), and applies to both interstate and intrastate calls.” Source: FCC
The most recent changes to the TCPA happened in 2012. They require that telemarketers:
- Obtain prior express written consent from consumers before robocalling them
- Not rely on an “established business relationship” to avoid getting consent from consumers
- Provide an automated, interactive “opt-out” mechanism during each robocall
What’s the TCPA and what good does it do?
To be clear, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, or the TCPA, is a federal law. It helps consumers challenge, and in turn, reduce abusive solicitation methods made over the phone. Like we said above, it applies to telemarketing, text messages, and pre-recorded calls. And it requires that telemarketers have “prior express consent” before contacting the consumer.
What counts as consent for a robocall to be legal? The type of consent required actually depends on the technology, the type of device, and the content of the message.
One of the main targets of the TCPA is robocalls. A robocall is one of many types of spam phone calls, and spam can be defined as an unsolicited message. Often they’re sent to a large number of recipients, and they’re not super personalized. The contents of the call could sort of be applicable to anyone. Most importantly, though: Spam calls are placed without permission from the recipient.
Robocalls are auto-dialed from a computer, they deliver a prerecorded message, and they’re designed to invite interaction from the recipient – either through voice or keypad input or through transfer to an agent or representative.
Because of the TCPA regulations, telemarketers and debt collectors are also prohibited from calling consumers before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. The telemarketer must also provide their name, the name of the business they represent, and a telephone number or address.
Don’t forget: TCPA requirements apply even if the call is a reassigned, ported or wrong number, making consumer verification critical, now more than ever.
What types of phone calls does the TCPA protect you from?
Robocalls to Residential Phone Lines
The Commission’s laws and regulations prohibit pre-recorded messages for calls made to residential telephone lines. This law applies only to solicitations from telemarketers with whom the consumer does not have an “established business relationship.” If the consumer has done business with a telemarketer within the last 18 months, or made inquiry within the last three months, then it is presumed under the TCPA that the consumer has an established business relationship with that telemarketer.
Robocalls to Cell Phones without Prior Consent
The TCPA prohibits the use of robocalls or spam text messages to both personal and professional cell phones. A robocaller violates the law every time they make an automated robocall or text message to a consumer’s cell phone without consent.
If the consumer previously gave the robocaller permission to call, then a robocall is legal. In cases where consent has been previously given, though – the consumer can revoke that consent by notifying the telemarketer or debt collector to stop calling the cell phone.
Source: Nolo – The TCPA Regulations
Robocalls to Phone Numbers on the “Do Not Call Registry”
The Do Not Call Registry is a national list of consumers who do not wish to be called by telemarketers. The TCPA prohibits any solicitation calls to those consumers. Consumers can place both their cell phone and residential lines on the Do-Not-Call registry.
A major win for the TCPA happened recently in July 2020.
On July 5th, 2020 the Supreme Court upheld the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), the landmark 1991 law that prohibits nearly all non-emergency robocalls to cell phones without the consumer’s consent. The Supreme Court also struck down a provision that was slipped into the 2015 budget bill, which weakened the TCPA by allowing debt collectors to make such calls when the debt is owed to, or even just guaranteed by, the federal government. Source: Consumer Reports
Under the exception passed by Congress, debt collectors could have made harassing robocalls to millions of Americans with education, mortgage, tax, and other federally-backed debt. The ruling eliminates a major loophole that predatory debt collectors could have taken advantage of aggressively. A major win for consumers nationwide!
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act protects Americans from unwanted #robocalls, but a 2015 law carved out a special exception for federal debt collectors (which I opposed then). My statement on today’s #SCOTUS decision in Barr v. AAPC, finding that exception unconstitutional: pic.twitter.com/Sk0eQc8lLI
— Ajit Pai (@AjitPaiFCC) July 6, 2020
Suspect someone has violated TCPA/robocall compliance? Here’s what you can do…
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) was created to stop unwanted telemarketing phone calls to consumers. Has it? Yes and no.
There are still plenty of spam calls getting through the cracks. And in the time since it has been created, TCPA litigation has exploded. It’s become the second most filed type of litigation in federal court.
According to the ANA, the TCPA can be enforced in at least three different ways:
- The individual who receives a call after a name removal request has been given to the caller is granted a private right of action in a local court and may sue for damages for each violation. In some cases, the courts can levy triple damages. Similar suits may be filed for violations of the TCPA’s provisions regarding faxes, auto-dialers, and artificial or prerecorded messages.
- States may initiate civil action against offending companies on behalf of their citizens.
- Complaints may be filed with the Federal Communications Commission, which has the power to assess penalties against parties in violation of the TCPA.
What can you do if you receive illegal robocalls?
If you have received unsolicited faxes, telemarketing calls, or prerecorded or autodialed calls, in violation of the TCPA – you may be able to bring a suit against the caller. If you are considering filing a suit, you could consult an attorney. In the meantime the National Association of Consumer Advocates recommends you try to collect the following 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
What about calls that the TCPA can’t prevent?
If you’re wondering why you still get robocalls, despite TCPA regulations – we’ll tell you. The TCPA largely regulates companies that follow the law. That means scam artists that don’t even pretend to follow the law are outside of its jurisdiction. Below we’ll highlight the challenges that the TCPA regulations face in stopping robocalls effectively.
Caller ID Spoofing Fuels the Robocall ProblemCaller ID spoofing, or phone spoofing, is the practice of placing a call from a phone number other than the phone number you are calling from. It’s incredibly difficult to trace, and scammers have little risk of getting caught.
Spoofed numbers can show up as:
- Blocked Caller ID
- “No Caller ID”
- Unknown Caller ID
- Random Phone Numbers
- Phone Numbers from Local Area Codes
- Even the Recipient’s Phone Number!
Caller ID spoofing lets spammers be more strategic in their methods. They can even place calls from phone numbers that appear to be in your same area code, to make recipients believe they are receiving a call from their doctor’s office, mechanic, or school. And it’s cheap for them to do it.
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 – making the TCPA useless in these circumstances.
What other solutions can help you stop spam calls?
If you want to put a stop to robocalls, you can try these simple steps. They won’t be able to cancel out all of the robocalls you receive, but it could be a start.
Start by revoking 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.
You can also opt-out of calls from a specific caller. According to the FCC, telemarketing calls must give you the option to opt-out of receiving future animated calls. The option to opt-out should be available on the automated menu. This gets difficult in regards to spoofed phone numbers.
And if you haven’t already, add yourself to the National Do Not Call List by visiting www.donotcall.gov or by calling 888-382-1222 using the phone you wish to register. If you register online, you MUST follow the link in the confirmation email that will be sent to you in order to complete the process.
By adding yourself to this list, you prohibit telemarketers from calling you, even if they are not using auto-dialers or prerecorded messages. Callers should cease all calls to you within 31 days. Like the TCPA, the Do Not Call List has its limitations.
Still receiving sales calls after 31 days have passed? You can submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission. You may still receive calls other than sales calls once you’ve signed up for the list, because certain types of calls like political and charitable calls are still allowed. You can also still be contacted by debt collectors.
What the TCPA can’t do, RoboKiller can.
There is a solution to the problem that works better than relying on TCPA regulations. The FTC recommends downloading a third-party mobile app to prevent scammers from reaching your phone.
Because the TCPA can’t directly regulate most spam calls (the illegal ones), third-party apps are invaluable. And RoboKiller doesn’t just block Robocalls, it takes the fight to them.
RoboKiller uses audio-fingerprinting technology to get to the root of the problem. It creates a unique fingerprint for each spam call received. This “fingerprint” can then be used to match, identify, and add similar calls to a global block list, even if they originate from different phone numbers – protecting customers nationwide in milliseconds.
It doesn’t stop there. RoboKiller intercepts spam calls with Answer Bots, robots that make the spammer think they are talking to a human and giving customers the last laugh. In 2019 alone, RoboKiller’s Answer Bots intercepted 127,738,310 calls wasting 93,703,304 minutes of spammers’ time. Here’s an example of our Answer Bot in action:
Go beyond the TCPA and try RoboKiller today. RoboKiller is available to download for free on the iOS and Android app stores, and offers a free 7-day trial.