To etiquette purists, the 10th anniversary dictates gifts of metal. So to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the National Do Not Call Registry, the FTC presents this iron-clad guarantee: You can count on us to continue to take action against companies that violate the Telemarketing Sales Rule, as today’s $7.5 million civil penalty — the largest ever collected in an FTC Do Not Call case — demonstrates.
The FTC’s allegations against Mortgage Investors Corporation – false money savings claims targeting current and former members of the armed forces, calls to people on the Do Not Call list, refusal to honor consumers’ requests to be placed on their entity-specific list, violations of the Mortgage Acts and Practices (MAP) Rule, and deceptive representations about a VA affiliation – merit more attention in our next post. But today let’s consider how the landscape has changed in the decade since the first consumer visited donotcall.gov to declare a phone number off-limits to telemarketers.
It took years to accomplish, including workshops, periods of robust public comment, and trips to federal court to plead consumers’ case. But on June 27, 2003, consumers voted with their fingertips and signed up for National Do Not Call. (A now-it-can-be-told factoid: The Registry initially debuted just for people west of the Mississippi because of concerns that millions of simultaneous calls could shut down the phone system.) Within three months, more than 50 million numbers were registered — a figure now topping 221 million. (A picture being worth a thousand words and all, click on the infographic for The Illustrated History.)
It wasn’t always a smooth road. Members of the telemarketing industry sued the FTC to stop Do Not Call, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit rebuffed the challenge, ruling that the Registry "directly advances the government’s important interests in safeguarding personal privacy and reducing the danger of telemarketing abuse.”
Not long after the Registry was open for business, the FTC filed its first lawsuit alleging Do Not Call violations. The defendant: the National Consumer Council, a bogus debt negotiation outfit that also falsely claimed to be a nonprofit. Law enforcement actions — more than 100 so far — have continued, resulting in orders against 291 individuals and corporations. The defendants haven’t been just fly-by-nighters. Some of the FTC’s lawsuits have been against household names like DirecTV, Columbia House, Craftmatic, ADT Security Systems, Ameriquest Mortgage, and the marketer of Rascal Scooters. Litigation against Dish Network is ongoing.
Advertisers and the telemarketers they hire haven’t been the only ones in the agency’s law enforcement sights. The FTC also has challenged the role others (like payment processors) play in lending a hand to law violators. We’ve even gone to court to shut down bogus DNC Registry scams.
What about robocalls? Prepare to clutch your pearls, but one of the FTC’s first cases was against clothing retailer Talbots for failing to include the proper opt-out mechanism. The agency moved quickly to address this intrusive form of marketing by amending the Telemarketing Sales Rule in 2009 to outlaw most forms of unwanted robocalls. The recently-concluded Robocall Challenge is part of the ongoing effort against illegal robocalls.
Is there still work to be done? Sure. The FTC has already won multi-millions in civil penalties and equitable financial remedies for violations of Do Not Call and the Robocall Rule. (None of that money goes to the FTC, by the way.) But we’ll keep (un)plugging away until every consumer’s Do Not Call request is honored.
So tonight, if your family gets through dinner without an annoying telemarketing call, please remember that the National Do Not Call Registry — and consumers’ support of the program — made that possible. And remember, too, some unsung heroes of Do Not Call: the thousands of businesses across the country that honor their legal obligations by complying with the Telemarketing Sales Rule.