The Hendersonville Standard Blog
The Hendersonville Standard Blog
Robo-calls are on the rise
“I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen.” ~ HAL, the all-knowing on-board robot computer system in the 1968 classic film, “2001: A Space Odyssey”
More and more Tennesseans – and other consumers across the United States – are receiving unsolicited automated calls, often known as robo-calls. These unwanted, and often annoying, calls are intentionally programmed to be made after most consumers’ work hours and during leisure time and family meals – in other words, when many people are home to answer the phone.
(I even got an illegal robo-call from “William from Vacation Services” at 5:52 p.m. on Sunday afternoon while I was writing this column!)
In September, 2009, after receiving thousands of complaints, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) passed a rule that bans most – but not all – robo-calls.
Despite this rule, the FTC announced in July, 2012 that robo-calling has actually increased. In other words, more and more unsolicited automated calls are being placed to consumers – in blatant violation of the fact that most of these calls are illegal.
Robo-calling is now also spreading to cell phones – which often ends up costing consumer’s minutes and therefore dollars, even if they hang up on the unwanted calls.
Here are some Q’s and A’s about the topic of robo-calls.
Q. Are all robo-calls illegal?
No. Perhaps not surprisingly, campaign robocalls from elected officials and political candidates are still legal. Lawful charities are also allowed to make calls requesting support. Companies with whom you have a customer relationship are also allowed to place robo-calls to you.
In addition, legitimate polling calls are still allowed. Unfortunately, some campaigns and/or their supporters have sometimes used a modified form of polling known as “push polling.” Push polls use automated interactive questions that are designed to smear and undercut another political candidate. I personally oppose any and all use of push polling, which amounts to negative propaganda masquerading as a poll.
The significant increase in robo-calls, however, comes from illegal robo-calls involving sales pitches – most of which have been made illegal.
Q. Why are robo-calls increasing if most of them have been made illegal by the FTC rule?
On July 12, 2012, the Consumer Correspondent for ABC News published a piece on the rise of illegal robo-calls. Here is what Elizabeth Leamy wrote, which many others also believe to be the answer to this question:
“So why would this strong rule hurt rather than help? My theory is that the new rule drove semi-legitimate companies out and now scam companies are having a heyday. They hawk interest rate reduction plans and bogus car warranties. They are probably auto-dialing you from overseas where U.S. law enforcement can't easily touch them. Technology makes it easy for them to dial every combination of numbers so that they'll stumble upon you even if you've got an unlisted number on the do not call list.”
Q. What can I do to help stop illegal robo-calls?
Here is advice from the FTC:
· Hang up the phone. Don't press “1” to speak to a live operator and don't press any other number to get your number off the list. If you respond by pressing any number, it will probably just lead to more robo-calls.
- Consider contacting your phone provider and asking them to block the number, and whether they charge for that service. Remember that telemarketers change Caller ID information easily and often, so it might not be worth paying a fee to block a number that will change.
- Report your experience to the FTC online at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 1-888-382-1222.
NOTE: The Federal Communications Commission is working to prepare and implement new stronger rules that would require prior express written consent for robo-calls to be made to consumers. The FCC site at fcc.gov/robo-calls has a cool 3-minute video featuring a Tennessee lawyer, Karen Franklin Johnson, who is now working for the FCC to fight illegal robo-calls. That site also has a link for filing a consumer complaint.(P.S. Yes, I have already submitted online reports about the illegal robo-call I got at 5:52 p.m. on Sunday, to both the FTC and the FCC. Every consumer report helps to address the problem of illegal robo-calls.)
James B. (Jim) Hawkins is a general practice and public interest law attorney based in Gallatin. This column represents legal information, and is not intended to take the place of legal advice. All cases are different and need individual attention. Consult with a private attorney of your choice to review the facts and law specific to your case. To suggest future column topics, call 452-9200.