Until a few years ago, businesses only needed a tenuous “established business relationship” in order to justify blasting out pre-recorded phone messages to consumers. Even though it’s now required that robocallers get a signed authorization before autodialing your number, many are not following these rules.
According to the Telemarketing Sales Rule:
A written agreement need only contain: (1) unambiguous evidence that a call recipient is willing to receive telephone calls that deliver a prerecorded message by or on behalf of a specific seller; (2) the telephone number to which such messages may be delivered; and (3) the call recipient’s signature.
The FTC doesn’t require a hard and fast template for obtaining this approval, but does suggest:
I would like to receive telephone calls that deliver prerecorded messages from [ABC Co.] that provide special sales offers such as _________________at this telephone number: (_____)____________.
The agreement must meet the following criteria:
1. Before the consumer agrees, the seller must clearly and conspicuously disclose the consequences of agreeing — namely, that the agreement will result in the seller delivering prerecorded messages to the consumer via telemarketing calls;
2. The seller may not require, directly or indirectly, that a consumer agree to receive prerecorded message calls as a precondition for purchasing or receiving any good or service; and
3. The seller must give the consumer an opportunity to designate the telephone number to which the calls may be placed.
The permission can be done and stored electronically, but it must comply with the Electronic Signatures In Global and National (E-SIGN) Commerce Act.
However, the approval can not be given verbally.
“[A] consumer’s oral response to an in-store request from a sales clerk for a home telephone contact number would not evidence the consumer’s agreement to receive prerecorded calls,” writes the FTC, “nor would an oral response to a sales clerk’s express request for the consumer’s agreement to receive prerecorded message calls.”
Moreover, even if you do give permission to the business, the authorization does not extend to related parties, such as affiliates, marketing partners, or others.
The bad news — especially for people who live in so-called election year battleground states — calls from political candidates and charities are still allowed under the law, whether you’ve given the caller permission or not.
So when that phone rings and it’s a robocall, unless you have distinct recall of giving that caller your permission to send you a pre-recorded call (calls from live human beings have a different set of rules), you should do the following:
1. Hang up.
2. Do NOT press any buttons — even if it’s to try to remove yourself from the company’s list — as doing so may just lead the robocaller to call you more.
3. File a complaint with the FTC, which has recently renewed its intention to crack down on illegal robocalls. You can do that online at FTC.gov or by calling 1 877 FTC HELP.
You could also look into having your phone service provider block the number. However, since robocallers rarely use the same number for too long — and since some phone companies charge to block numbers — you may end up spending money to block someone that will just call you from a different number.
“If the call is a sales message and you haven’t given your written permission from the calls on the other end, the call is illegal. Period,” says FTC attorney Kati Daffan, who adds, “If a company does not care about obeying the law, you can be sure they are probably trying to scam you.”