May 22, 2020 • Jaclyn Rainey; FINDLAW/BLOGS/LAW AND DAILY LIFE
Can You Sue Telemarketers or Robocallers?
Ask any attorney, and they will likely agree that, yes, telemarketers are the worst. And the worst kind are the ones that use robodialers. It’s like they don’t even personally care that someone might be locked into a three-hour binge of “Cake Boss.”
Fortunately, if you’ve had enough of robocalling, there’s a good chance that you might actually be able to take legal action. This is especially true after you’ve asked for the calls to stop or signed up for the National Do Not Call Registry.
What Is a Robodialer?
A “robodialer” or “robocaller” is a system that calls large amounts of people at once and finds free phone lines. It does not require a phone number to be typed in.
Imagine a huge list of phone numbers, and the automated system is auto-dialing phone calls to whoever is free. This is great for call centers and scams, but not great for anyone receiving the spam calls.
Once the dialing system finds someone to pick up, they may have:
- A real person on the line to talk to you
- A recorded message
- A system that gives you options to hear more (often called “press one” campaigns)
Many of these systems will leave a voicemail if you do not answer. In a scam, the “caller” might act like there is a problem or ask you to “press one” and follow the prompts to do something unwise, like enter your credit card number.
It Is Illegal to Call Someone After They Say “Stop”
Some scammers know it is illegal to call you nonstop, but they do not care. Other auto-dialers realize you are on a do-not-call list but try to find ways around it. Companies can also mask their phone number and hang up if you ask them to stop calling. All of this is illegal, and you can try to sue.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) makes any robocall illegal that is trying to sell you something and does not have your written permission to call you. If you get one of these calls, you should hang up and file a complaint with the FTC.
You can also add yourself to the National Do Not Call Registry if you haven’t already. Note that the law allows telemarketers to make a mistake one time, so the first time you are called after being put on the registry is generally forgiven.
The FTC, FCC, and TCPA Are on Your Side Against Harassing Phone Calls
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also accepts complaints and works to protect consumers by stopping calls from spammers. You can learn more about the FCC rules on robocalls, including:
- The personal information a spam caller must give you
- Times of day that robocalls are banned
- What to do if they do not follow the rules
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) updated its rules in 2013 to include recorded spam calls and texts. You can stay updated on their recent changes to understand when you are receiving illegal robocalls, messages, or texts.
Taking Telemarketers to Small Claims Court
Believe it or not, some people have been rather successful at taking telemarketers to small claims court. The TCPA allows payment of penalties to the call recipient ($500 per violation). So if you can track down where the call came from, you may be able to make some money off telemarketers that don’t stop calling after you tell them to.
As one hero in the fight against telemarketing calls will attest to, it does take time and effort. But, gathering the evidence is relatively easy, and winning at small claims court can be simple if you gather the right evidence.
If you plan to go to court, you should:
- Write down the number and date of each call
- Ask the person calling you for as much information as possible
- Tell them you want to be on their Do Not Call list
- Request that they send you their Do Not Call policy (if they do not send this to you, you can sue them for $500)
Once you ask to be removed from the call list, any more calls (they are allowed one mistake call to you) can result in $500 in fines paid to you.
Suing for Overly Eager Robo-Collection
You may be able to sue if you have a debt collector, debt collection agency, or a company’s collection department calling you too often. For example, a furniture store may have sold you items on a store credit card. Now you have to make payments. If you fall behind (or even if you make payments but the system makes a mistake), you could be called numerous times a day by a robo-collector.
Some people try blocking the numbers, but many systems can change the number they call from to get around this. A store’s automated collections system could call someone multiple times a day for years.
In some cases, that’s illegal. There are specific rules debt collectors must follow when calling to collect on a debt:
- They can only call between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.
- If you tell them you can’t receive calls at your place of employment, they can’t call you there.
- They can’t continue to contact you if you mail a letter telling them to stop.
- They can’t continue to call using an automatic dialing system if you tell them to stop.
- They can’t continuously call you as a form of harassment.
A person sued a company in 2019 for this scenario. After the maddening amount of calls, she won nearly half a million dollars.
Hiring a Lawyer to Fight Telemarketing Calls
If you are bombarded with telemarketing calls and have already signed up on the Do Not Call Registry, you may want to consult with an attorney to see if you can get the calls to stop.
The legal issues involved are rather specific. You should interview any potential attorney you hire to make sure they are actually experienced in handling this sort of matter.
An attorney can save you time by filing documents, creating demand letters, filing the lawsuit, or joining a class action against a company. It may take a few hundred dollars of an attorney’s time to get you thousands of dollars back in the settlement — and the end of those unwanted calls.