FTC Seeks Public Comments on Ways to Strengthen Caller ID Provisions of the Commission's Telemarketing Sales Rule

Seeks Ways to Combat Technologies That Hide Callers' Identities

For Release

The Federal Trade Commission today announced it is seeking public comments on whether and how to strengthen the Caller ID provisions of the Telemarketing Sales Rule. By requiring telemarketers to provide Caller ID information, the Rule allows consumers to screen out unwanted calls. The FTC seeks comments on how to make Caller ID more useful to consumers and combat technologies that hide telemarketers’ identities.

“Beefing up the Rule’s Caller ID provisions will help the FTC keep pace with rapidly changing technologies and more effectively fulfill its consumer protection mission,” said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Currently, the Rule’s Caller ID provisions require telemarketers to provide consumers who use Caller ID services with either a telephone number for the telemarketer or the number of the seller or charitable organization represented by the telemarketer. Some Caller ID services also display names of up to 15 characters to identify the caller. The Rule promotes telemarketer accountability and helps the FTC and other law enforcement agencies to identify telemarketers that engage in improper telemarketing, including telemarketers that call numbers on the Do Not Call Registry.

Under the Rule, telemarketers must provide the name of the telemarketer, seller, or charitable organization to such Caller ID services, if the telemarketer’s carrier makes this available. The Caller ID regulations give telemarketers flexibility in determining what telephone numbers to transmit, and in determining whether the name of the telemarketer, or the name of the seller or charity, is displayed on Caller ID services.

Not all businesses abide by the these Caller ID requirements, however, as seen in recent FTC cases that charge telemarketers pitching fraudulent extended auto warranties and credit card interest rate reduction programs with violating the Caller ID requirements. Since 2005, the FTC has initiated 10 enforcement actions that charge abusive telemarketers with concealing their identities from consumers. The FTC’s request for comments notes that “spoofing” or manipulating Caller ID names and numbers may become more common as telemarketers increasingly use advanced telecommunications technologies.

The Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking announced today does not put forward a specific plan for strengthening the Telemarketing Sales Rule’s Caller ID provisions. Instead, it provides information on how Caller ID services work, and explains how the benefits of Caller ID services are undermined when telemarketers use technology to block transmission of Caller ID, to transmit false information, or to transmit a telephone number or name that does not clearly identify the source of the call.

The FTC is seeking comments on a range of Caller ID-related questions to help inform its understanding of this issue, including:

  • How widespread is consumer use of Caller ID services to screen unwanted calls, and do consumers use other services that rely on the transmission of calling party numbers (CPN), such as call-blocking equipment, to avoid unwelcome telemarketing calls?
  • Would changes to the Telemarketing Sales Rule improve the ability of Caller ID services to accurately disclose the source of telemarketing calls or improve the ability of service providers to block calls in which information on the source of the call is not available, or has been spoofed?
  • Should the FTC amend the Caller ID provisions of the Rule to recognize or anticipate specific developments in telecommunications technologies relating to the transmission and use of Caller ID information, and if so, how?
  • Should the FTC amend the Caller ID provisions of the Rule to further specify the characteristics of the phone number that a telemarketer must transmit to a Caller ID service? For example, should the Rule require that the phone number transmitted be one that is listed in publicly available phone directories, a number with an area code and prefix that are associated with the physical location of the telemarketer’s place of business, a number that is answered by a live representative, or automated service that identifies the telemarketer by name?
  • Should the FTC amend the Caller ID provisions to allow a seller or telemarketer to use trade names or product names, rather than the actual name of the seller or telemarketer, in the name information displayed by Caller ID services?

The Commission vote approving the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was 5-0. It can be found on the FTC’s website and as a link to this press release, and will be published in the Federal Register soon. Comments submitted in response to the questions in the notice must be received by January 28, 2011. Comments can be submitted here. All comments received will be posted on the FTC’s website at: www.ftc.gov/os/publiccomments.shtm.

Copies of the Federal Register Notice is available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,800 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.

(FTC File No.: P104405)
(TSR-Caller ID.final.wpd)

Contact Information

MEDIA CONTACT:
Mitchell J. Katz
Office of Public Affairs

202-326-2161
STAFF CONTACT:
Michael Tankersley
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-2991