ST. LOUIS – They are the phone calls and texts we love to hate.
“Phone rings and you’re like, ‘Oh man, who is it?’ It’s unknown? Oh, great!” said Armando Fierro.
Annoying robocalls once led Fierro to block hundreds of phone numbers.
“Now, knowing what I know, I unblock all of those numbers and I answer the phone confidently,” Fierro said.
“A lot of times people think those are scam calls, but oftentimes, there’s legitimate businesses behind it,” said Chris Roberts, St. Louis consumer attorney at Butsch Roberts & Associates LLC.
Roberts said the Telephone Consumer Protection Act restricts telemarketers in three main ways; among them – penalties for violating federal and state Do Not Call lists.
“If you’re registered on both lists, you can potentially get a penalty under the TCPA, which is the federal law, and then the Missouri law, which restricts these types of calls as well,” he said.
Roberts said under federal law, if you get more than one robocall from the same company in a 12-month period, you could take legal action against that company for $500 or more per call. Under Missouri law, the same robocall scenario could entitle you to up to $5,000. Armando Fierro’s used the law to his advantage.
“Because of NDAs I can’t talk about the specific amounts, but I can say it’s several thousand dollars,” Fierro said.
Pinpointing the company behind the robocall will take preparation and investigation.
“That’s why it’s really important that you act interested, build that rapport, be very nice to get information about the name of your company, what’s the website, where (they are) located,” Roberts said. “And then you can use that information to figure out, ‘Yes, it’s ABC company out of this state’ and then pursue a case.”
The TCPA also restricts telemarketers from using pre-recorded voice calls.
“Sometimes there will be a call and you hear a live person on the call, but before that you hear something like, ‘Press 1 to speak with a live representative,’” Roberts said.
If you get a live person on the phone, Roberts said to follow the same playbook he discussed. If the caller leaves a voicemail, save it. It may include information about the business you need to take legal action. The Supreme Court recently issued an opinion on a provision in the TCPA that restricts telemarketers from placing auto-dialed calls and texts without consumers’ permission. Roberts said the court’s decision makes it more difficult for consumers to prove the telemarketer used that technology to call them.
“I am not going to be surprised if consumers begin receiving even more robocalls than we’re receiving right now and unsolicited text messages as well,” Roberts said.
That’s why knowing your rights under the TCPA has never been more important.
“You have a right as a consumer to have your phone and be able to answer it happily with no problems,” Fierro said. “It’s these robocallers that are making answering the phone such a problem nowadays.”
We should note this law doesn’t apply to political calls or non-profits. You should still be wary of sharing any personal information until you’ve determined the call isn’t a scam. While you don’t need an attorney to take legal action against companies in violation of the TCPA, legal help can be useful. Roberts and Fierro recommend creating a paper trail of your correspondence with these companies.
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