Consumer complaints about robocalls have multiplied. New technologies make it cheaper to send pre-recorded messages and con artists have gotten trickier about obscuring the origin of their calls. But businesses shouldn’t be tempted to take telemarketing short-cuts because the FTC is cracking down on illegal robocalls.
A September 2009 change to the Telemarketing Sales Rule outlawed most recorded commercial calls to consumers, commonly known as robocalls. The FTC has brought law enforcement actions against dozens of companies and individuals, stopping billions of illegal robocalls. (Case highlights are included on the BCP Business Center's Telemarketing page.)
Businesses that continue to flout the law can consider themselves warned that the FTC is ratcheting up its anti-robocall efforts and has announced a Robocall Action Plan. Just one initiative: an October 18, 2012, summit in Washington, D.C., to examine the issues surrounding the robocall problem and explore potential technological solutions.
“But we’re not scammers. I’m sure our customers won’t mind getting recorded calls from us.” Not so fast. Under the TSR, it doesn’t matter that you may have an established business relationship with a customer. It’s illegal to deliver recorded telemarketing messages unless you have written (yes, written) permission from them and there’s a specific procedure you have to follow to get their OK. The Rule also has a narrow exception for calls that are purely information — say, a reminder about an upcoming appointment or an alert that a flight has been cancelled.
Non-compliance can be costly, with civil penalties ringing up at $16,000 per illegal call, so now’s a good time to make sure your policies are in line with the law. To find out how the Rule applies to your business — including the required steps if you want to get your customers’ permission to send them recorded messages — read Reining in Robocalls and the Telemarketing Calls That Deliver Prerecorded Messages section of Complying with the Telemarketing Sales Rule.
Even if you don’t use recorded messages in your business, chances are you’ve received illegal calls at home. The FTC has a new page with resources for consumers. This video offers tips on what to do when you get a robocall: