Ringing in the New Year

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It’s great to ring in the New Year, but there’s one thing savvy businesses don’t want to ring: a phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry or a company’s entity-specific list. A recent FTC law enforcement action — and stats from the FTC’s just-released Report to Congress on Do Not Call — emphasize the need for compliance.

The Do Not Call Registry grabs most of the headlines, but the Telemarketing Sales Rule has an equally important protection for consumers that pre-dates the Registry. Under the Rule, it’s illegal to call a consumer who has already asked not to get any more calls from a particular seller. It’s also illegal to deny or interfere with a consumer’s request to be placed on a company’s entity-specific Do Not Call list. The Rule makes clear that sellers and telemarketers are responsible for maintaining their entity-specific Do Not Call lists. With civil penalties of $16,000 per violation, non-compliance can be pricey. (If you have clients in the nonprofit sector, remind them that this applies to them, too, as well as companies they hire to do telemarketing.)

That’s one area where the FTC says Illinois-based telemarketer Americall fouled up. Americall specializes in outbound telemarketing services for the financial services and insurance industries, as well as other national brands. The FTC charged that Americall trained its representatives not to honor people’s entity-specific Do Not Call requests. According to the complaint, Americall’s training manual instructed its reps that, absent additional information, people who say “Don’t call again,” “Don’t call me back,” or “I do not accept solicitation call [sic]” shouldn’t be placed on the entity-specific Do Not Call list of the company on whose behalf Americall was calling. That, says the FTC, violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule.

The Rule also requires companies to transmit accurate Caller ID information so people can decide whether to take the call. The FTC charged that Americall altered the name that was transmitted to people who use Caller ID. For example, according to the complaint, when telemarketing on behalf of an insurance company, Americall transmitted the phrase “Gas Rebate Center.” It’s hard to imagine a greater incentive than that to get people to pick up the phone. (OK, maybe a Caller ID reading “George Clooney” or “Halle Berry,” but you get the point.) That’s why the Telemarketing Sales Rule makes it clear that companies have to transmit accurate info.

To settle the charges, Americall will pay a civil penalty of $500,000. The FTC’s order also puts tough injunctive provisions in place to prevent future violations.

And while we’re talking about Do Not Call, the FTC just issued its every-other-year Report to Congress about how the Registry’s doing. Here are some factoids to astonish and amaze your friends:

  • Active phone numbers on the Registry: 209 million
  • New numbers registered in the last fiscal year: more than 8 million
  • Number of sellers, telemarketers, charities, etc., that accessed the Registry last year: 35,000
  • Total they paid in fees that go toward supporting the system: $13.7 million.

Thinking about ringing in the New Year by brushing up on your legal obligations?  Visit the FTC’s Telemarketing portal for business.

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