Tomorrow could be the first day of the rest of your life. That is, if you consider the day when you stop getting annoying telemarketing calls the genesis of a new existence.
Starting October 16, the Federal Trade Commission will begin implementing new rules to its Telephone Consumer Protection Act to better handle mobile calls and texts from telemarketing robo-dialers. In short, this means that people can only receive robo-calls and messages if they have given the companies express written consent beforehand.
Sergei Lemberg, the principle attorney at the firm Lemberg and Associates, explained to me precisely what is changing. “It used to be that by virtue of giving [the telemarketers] your number, that was enough to get robo-dialed,” he said. “Now telemarketers need specific consent.” Before, people could add their names to a national “Do Not Call” list. Now, being on that list is always implied.
This is good news for the majority of Americans with mobile phones. According to statistics from anti-telemarketing app PrivacyStar, telemarketers call the average US citizen two to three times a day. In addition, spam SMS messages have surpassed 4.5 billion.
These new rules give people more power to act. Acting can mean filing direct complaints with the FTC, suing the telemarketing companies, or employing anti-robo-calling apps like PrivacyStar.
What Lemberg emphasized was the need for people to know. While most everyone receives these kinds of calls, know their rights. “We have to let public officials know what’s going on,” he said to me.
Given that Lemberg is a lawyer, he did mention the litigation possibilities. His law firm has taken on many anti-telemarketing cases. According to him, plaintiffs can receive anywhere from $500 to $1,500 per call. At the same time, few people have acted thus far; fewer than 1,000 suits have been filed under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (which was enacted in 1991).
As for PrivacyStar, it offers an app for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry that lets users perform reverse lookups of phone numbers and file real-time complaints with the FTC. In addition, for Android users, it lets them block known telemarketers. If it discovers a persistent caller, it will help the users seek out legal assistance.
The app already has over 1 million registered users and claims to have blocked over 100 million numbers and filed over 300,000 complaints to the FTC. With this new change, PrivacyStar’s Chief Marketing Officer Jonathan Sasse only sees these numbers going up. “We’re trying to get the word out that a change is coming,” he said.
So, will these new regulations actually change things? Lemberg would like to think so. He, along with anyone else who has ever existed, has heard people complain about these endless annoying phone calls. More often than not people of older generations get targeted. “My hope is that this more stringent law will enable more private enforcement,” he said.
Of course he does — these changes mean more business for his practice. At the same time, it is good to know that you could get a few bucks if you’re being egregiously dialed.
For those who want more information, the FTC’s website would be a good resource. Unfortunately, due to the government shutdown, the site is not in operation. PrivacyStar’s website, however, has some good resources as well.
In any case, be sure to let your grandma know; she has probably been a prime telemarketing target. That is, if she has a cell phone.
[Image courtesy x-ray delta one]