A division of Primus Telecommunications Group Inc. agreed yesterday to pay $400,000 to the federal government to settle allegations that the McLean phone provider made telemarketing calls in violation of the national do-not-call registry.
Primus did not admit or deny wrongdoing in the agreement with the Federal Communications Commission's enforcement division, and the company promised to bring its operations into compliance with the do-not-call rules and to make the $400,000 voluntary payment to the Treasury.
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"I think this was a human error," said Gerry A. Simone, a spokeswoman for Primus. Spanco Telesystems & Solutions Ltd., which the company hired to call prospective customers, failed to properly check its call list with the do-not-call registry, violating its contract with Primus, Simone said.
Spanco, which is based in India, could not be reached for comment.
Neither the FCC nor Primus indicated how many calls were in dispute.
The allegations concerned the division of Primus's U.S. operations that sold international long-distance to consumers. It generated about 40 percent of its new customers through telemarketers hired to call and solicit potential customers. But after more than 90 consumers complained that they were contacted by Primus despite having registered their numbers on the list that's supposed to fend off most telemarketing, the FCC launched an investigation in December that led to the consent decree.
The FCC started investigating the issue Dec. 17. Primus terminated its contract with Spanco the next day and is not using telemarketing, Simone said. The company has had numerous meetings and training sessions with its employees to ensure that violations will not occur, she said. The company has not filed a lawsuit against Spanco, Simone said, and she declined to comment on whether it may file one.
Companies that solicit by telephone are supposed to check their lists of numbers against the do-not-call registry.
Primus is among the first companies to be investigated for alleged violations of the do-not-call rules, which went into effect in October. In July, AT&T Corp. settled a do-not-call case with the FCC, agreeing to pay $490,000 in fines for its violation of old rules that required companies to keep track of customers who asked the companies not to contact them with telephone solicitations.
To date, the FCC has received between 10,000 and 12,000 consumer complaints alleging violation of the do-not-call list, said Rosemary Kimball, a spokeswoman for the commission.
Separately, the Federal Trade Commission, which maintains the database of more than 60 million home and cellular numbers, has filed four cases for alleged violations of the rules, all of which are still pending. Last week, it filed a suit against Nevada telemarketer Braglia Marketing Group LLC, which the FTC alleges has made 300,000 telemarketing calls to numbers in the registry.