If you have a telephone, robocalls may be ruining your day. If you answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it's a robocall. If the recording is a sales message and you haven't given your written permission to receive calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal.
Since most of us frequently receive robocalls, we know that being illegal doesn’t mean that the calls aren’t happening. Technology has made it cheap and easy for scammers to make illegal calls from anywhere in the world, and to hide from law enforcement by displaying fake caller ID information. The Federal Trade Commission reports it has brought more than a hundred lawsuits against over 600 companies and individuals responsible for billions of illegal robocalls and other Do Not Call violations.
In fact, earlier this month, the FTC brought suit against a company that they say is responsible for hundreds of thousands of these calls. According to the FTC, Life Management Services swindled people out of their money by offering two types of phony debt relief: credit card interest rate reduction services and credit card debt elimination services. The company promised lower interest rates or government funds to pay off debt, and asked people to make initial payments ranging from $500 to $20,000. But almost no one got the help that was promised.
Not all robocalls are illegal so which types are allowed?
Recorded messages regarding candidates running for office or charities asking for donations are allowed. Messages that are solely informational, for example a reminder from your pharmacy or doctor’s office or a message from a business that is contacting you to collect a debt, are permitted. Prerecorded messages from banks, telephone carriers and charities also are exempt from these rules if the banks, carriers or charities make the calls themselves.
How do I know if a robocall is illegal?
An immediate red flag is if the recording is trying to promote the sale of a good or service. If the recording is a sales message and you haven’t given your written permission to get calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal. Beware of robocalls that are blatantly illegal because the pitch is mostly likely a scam. In addition, if you are listed on the national Do Not Call Registry and you still receive a recorded sales message, you can be sure the company is breaking the law and trying to scam you.
What are my robocall rights?
A telemarketer must have your written consent, whether through paper or electronic means, to receive a call or message. The company is not allowed to justify the call based solely on an ‘established business relationship’ with you. Simply buying a product, or contacting a business with a question, no longer gives them legal permission to call you. The rules also require telemarketers to allow you to opt out of receiving additional telemarketing robocalls immediately during a prerecorded telemarketing call through an automated menu. There are harsh penalties for sellers and telemarketers who break the rules and transmit prerecorded messages to consumers who have not agreed in writing to accept such messages. They can face penalties of up to $16,000 per call.
Before responding to unsolicited phone calls, the BBB advises:
Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia & the CSRA, Inc. serving 41 counties in Central Georgia and the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA). This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB at Phone: 1-800-763-4222, Web site: www.bbb.org or E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com