David Kirkpatrick

August 28, 2009

FTC bans most robocall telemarketing

This type of regulation is long, long overdue. Robocalls are invasive, time-wasting and sometimes almost impossible to stop. I’ve done consulting and content for the collections industry and product reviews for IVR (interactive voice response) systems and predictive dialers so I have a working knowledge of the technology and its strengths and weaknesses.

Robocalls can offer a number of bad results. Unscrupulous users of predictive dialers with prerecorded messages can make calls with zero human involvement in the process, hide or spoof the caller ID number to anything (read: fake) they want, and not provide a working number to anyone who listens to the entire call to hopefully stop the annoyance.

Another issue isn’t nearly as sinister, but maybe even worse from an unstoppable irritant perspective. Sometimes either a number gets “lost” in a PD/IVR system and keeps getting called without anyone knowing about it, and even lost in th system where a front-line operator can’t end the calls. Similarly, there are times where a company utilizing PD/IVR systems go out of business, but the calls continue for a time. Maybe a long time if the service is outsourced, the paid-up contract is long and no one from the defunct company informs the telecom outsource to stop the calls.

From the first link way up there:

The Federal Trade Commission said Thursday it is banning many types of prerecorded telemarketing solicitations, known as robocalls. Currently, consumers must specifically join a do-not-call list to avoid them. Starting Sept. 1, telemarketers will first need written permission from the customer to make such calls.

“American consumers have made it crystal clear that few things annoy them more than the billions of commercial telemarketing robocalls they receive every year,” said Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC.

Violators will face penalties of up to $16,000 per call.

Don’t expect phone solicitations to disappear completely, though.

Calls that are not trying to sell goods and services to consumers will be exempt, such as those that provide information like flight cancellations and delivery notices and those from debt collectors.

Other calls not covered include those from politicians, charities that contact consumers directly, banks, insurers, phone companies, surveys and certain health care messages such as prescription notifications. The FTC said those don’t fall under its jurisdiction.

And calls made by humans rather than automated systems will still be allowed, unless the phone number is on the National Do Not Call Registry.

But the FTC said the ban should cover most robocalls, forcing marketers to turn to more expensive live calls, or ramp up efforts in direct mail, e-mail and TV ads.

The ban is part of amendments to the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule announced a year ago.