Relief From the Robo-Calls Is Coming

By Deborah Yao
Associated Press
Friday, August 28, 2009

Americans tired of having their dinners interrupted by phone calls touting car warranties or vacation packages will soon get some relief.

The Federal Trade Commission said Thursday it is banning many types of prerecorded telemarketing solicitations, known as robo-calls. 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 robo-calls 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 such as 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 and phone companies, as well as surveys and certain health-care messages such as prescription notifications. The FTC said those do not 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 robo-calls, 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 a series of amendments to the FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule that were announced a year ago.

Because the ban has been known, telemarketers already have been phasing out robo-calls, said Tim Searcy, chief executive of the American Teleservices Association, a trade group whose members include telemarketers. He said the public will not see much of a change.

Searcy also said the ban will do little to stop calls touting illegal scams.

People who get an unauthorized call can file complaints with the commission online or by calling 877-382-4357 (877-FTC-HELP).


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