Robocalls, we all hate them Even with a paid subscription to Robo Killer, the calls keep coming in. One call suggested it was coming from my own number!
We constantly get legit inquiries from pissed off potential clients wanting our help in stopping these calls. Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act in 1991 to address this very problem. Yet we are powerless to stop most of these calls ourselves.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act – we will call it the TCPA – allows anyone who receives these annoying calls to file a claim in federal court. Unsolicited calls to cell phones, ringless voicemails, calls to numbers on the Do Not Call list, they are all illegal.
Victims of these annoying calls are entitled to between $500 and $1500 for each unauthorized or illegal call. Unfortunately, identifying the wrongdoers or collecting any award is impossible in most cases. The law no longer works as it should. Technology has outpaced the law.
Today’s technology allows robocallers to simply change their outgoing phone number. That makes it difficult to identify who is placing the call. Your caller ID might say the call is coming from the IRS or a local number or even a legitimate business when in fact it is coming from a call center or even an automated rack of computers that rely on computer generated voices.
We can’t sue these shops because we don’t even know who they are or where they are located!
Worse, most have no assets. When they are caught, they simply create a new name and start all over again. They have so little invested in the business that is easy just to reopen. Even if their equipment was confiscated, they could reopen within a day. (A simple smart phone can be programmed to work as an autodialer.)
Because we are TCPA lawyers, we are frequently chastised when we tell folks that we can’t help. It’s not that we are lazy, the law simply isn’t a good fit for most offenders.
Where we can help is stopping illegal robocalls made by legitimate companies or companies that make calls based on leads generated by questionable vendors.
Let’s look at some examples and what can be done to address the problem.
Royal Seas Cruises Prosecuted for Third Party Leads
Cruise ship lines and time shares are big violators of the TCPA. In order to attract new customers, these entities rely heavily on aggressive marketing campaigns. Royal Seas had worked out an arrangement with a company called Prospects DM to find prospective cruise travelers. (The DM in Prospect DM stands for “direct marketing.”)
Prospects DM sold “warm” leads to Royal Sea. Prospect, in turn, received its leads from thousands of websites. Prospect would call the leads and if the person answering expressed interest, the call would be transferred to a Royal Seas operator.
Under the TCPA, these calls are legal but only if the recipient of the call gave express consent to be contacted. Many of the callers said they never gave consent and sued.
Royal Seas Cruises threw up its hands and blamed Prospect DM. Prospect, in turn, said there must have been consent but because it purchased so many leads and lists that came off so many different websites that it couldn’t show a single call recipient that had consented.
Maybe that recipient did consent when they checked the box on some form months earlier, but the burden was to Prospect DM and Royal Seas to prove it.
Freedom Mortgage Robocalls and Ringless Voicemails
We are currently seeking to certify a class of Freedom Mortgage customers who claim they were called repeatedly despite being telling the company to stop. Some people also received ringless voicemails, a technology that allows a telemarketer to go through the phone companies switching and leave you a voicemail without actually calling your phone.
The ringless voicemail is cutting edge technology. Obviously that technology didn’t exist when the TCPA was passed almost three decades ago. The industry says it isn’t covered by the TCPA because no call was made. Not all courts agree, however.
What Can Be Done to Stop Robo Calls?
First, we always ask that you check with us first. Just don’t shoot the messenger if we tell you there is little we can do. We don’t make any money unless you make money. That means we want to pursue these cases as badly as you want the constant barrage of calls to stop.
Chances are we cannot help if the call is coming from a spoofed number or if the call is trying to sell you auto warranties, debt-relief services, lower credit card payments, durable medical equipment, home security systems or involve fake charities and Google search results services. Many of these calls plus those offering time shares and health insurance are made from fly-by-night call centers that are beyond our reach.
If the caller is willing to tell you who they are, they may be legit. Even though a caller can be prosecuted for just one illegal robocall, we often suggest politely telling the caller to place you on their do not call list. If the company is legit, you won’t hear from them again. If the call is coming from a spoofed number, however, telling them to stop or pressing “9” to be added to their do not call list may have the opposite effect. That tells them that the number is legit.
The telephone companies have the technology to stop spoofing and ringless voicemails. They just don’t want to pay for it or lose the revenue from the businesses making the illegal robocalls. Let them and your elected representatives know that these calls must be stopped.
A recent court decision in the District of Columbia dramatically changed the legal landscape on certain robocalls. In order to place thousands of calls per hour, telemarketers rely on autodialers. The industry term is ATDS, short for automated telephone dialing system. The court tossed portions of the government’s rules on autodialers. Congress is in the process of fixing the problem, but the window has been opened for some sleazy companies to exploit loopholes in the current law.
With spoofed numbers and the fly-by-night call centers, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) acts as the government’s primary enforcement arm.
Recently the feds took down some major scammers responsible for billions of illegal robocalls.
In June 2018, the government sued NetDotSolutions and TeraMESH as well as owner James Christiano. They said these companies were making a billion robocalls per year. The complaint alleged that they made 1) illegal robocalls; 2) calls to numbers on the DNC Registry; 3) calls with spoofed caller IDs; and 4) abandoned calls, in which the company hung up on consumers who answered.
They were fined $1.35 million. (We are disappointed in the fine, technically they could have been held responsible for trillions of dollars in fines although collecting that from a fly by night company is impossible. We think Congress should impose criminal sanctions for recidivists and major offenders.)
In another recent case, the FTC sued Higher Goals Marketing. According to government lawyers, Higher Goals “used illegal robocalls to contact consumers and pitch fake debt-relief services. The defendants guaranteed they could substantially and permanently lower consumers’ credit card interest rates, and would save consumers thousands of dollars in interest payments.” In reality, the scheme was rarely, if ever, able to deliver the promised results.”
Highlighting our comments about how easy these companies simply reopen across the hall, the FTC says they set up their debt-relief scheme within weeks of a court order shuttering a similar telemarketing operation known as Life Management Services, where several of the defendants had worked.
Sometimes these robocalls come from supposed charities. Last July, the FTC launched as charity scam enforcement sweep called “Operation Donate with Honor.” As part of that operation, the government claimed that Veterans of America was a fake veterans’ charities that made illegal robocalls to get people to donate cars and boats. Callers were told that the property, would be sold and any proceeds would go to veterans, in return, the person making the donation would get a large tax write off.
You guess it, it was a scam. Nothing went to veterans. The scheme used various names, including Veterans of America, Vehicles for Veterans LLC, Saving Our Soldiers, Donate Your Car, Donate That Car LLC, Act of Valor, and Medal of Honor.
Another common scam are companies that claim they are authorized Google representatives. If you don’t pay them, you risk having your small business delisted by Google. How do they get customers? Robocalling thousands of small businesses.
The FTC charged 1) Michael Pocker, Modern Spotlight LLC, Modern Spotlight Group LLC, and Modern Internet Marketing LLC; 2) Steffan Molina, Perfect Image Online LLC, and Pinnacle Presence LLC; and 3) Ricardo Diaz with this scam. Unfortunately, many others are involved in the same scam.
Are You the Victim of Illegal Robocalls?
Despite our inability to stop all these callers, many robocalls are made by legit businesses. Often the legitimate business bought leads from a shady source but that doesn’t matter. Unless you gave consent or had an existing business relationship with the caller, they shouldn’t be calling and shouldn’t be sending unsolicited text messages.
If you think you are the victim of illegal robocalls, calls involving ringless voicemail, calls using a robotic voice or unsolicited text messages, call us. These calls are usually illegal and made in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
We help consumers collect fines of up to $1,500 per call. And you never pay us anything unless we win and collect money on your behalf. To learn more, contact us online, by email or by phone 202-800-9791. We also suggest you visit our TCPA robocall information “Can I Sue a Telemarketer” page.