The FTC has announced that it received temporary restraining orders against five robocalling operations that allegedly tricked consumers out of hundreds or thousands of dollars by making false claims that they could reduce credit card interest rates in return for a fee. The pre-recorded, automated calls often started with the message: “Hi, this is Rachel from cardholder services….” These actions come on the heels of the FTC’s $50,000 robocall challenge on which we recently reported. The complaints lodged by the FTC allege not only deceptive acts in violation of the FTC Act, but also violations of the Telemarketing Sales Rule (“TSR”) for making robocalls without first obtaining appropriate consent, misrepresenting the services marketed during the calls, calling numbers on the Do Not Call Registry, and for charging an up-front fee. Under the TSR, companies cannot make outbound calls that deliver a pre-recorded marketing message unless the seller has obtained the call recipient’s prior signed, written consent (which can be provided electronically) to receive such calls from that seller. To be valid, the request for consent must: (1) contain a clear and conspicuous disclosure that the purpose is to authorize the seller to place pre-recorded marketing calls to the person; (2) not require, directly or indirectly, that the agreement be executed as a condition of purchasing any good or service; (3) demonstrate the willingness of the recipient of the call to receive calls that deliver prerecorded messages by or on behalf of a specific seller; and (4) include the person’s phone number and signature. When such calls are made, there must be an automated method for opting out of future marketing calls. In addition to the injunctions, the FTC is seeking consumer redress against the companies. State attorneys general in Arizona and Arkansas filed similar actions in their state, as did the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
TIP: The FTC continues to crack down on pre-recorded telemarketing calls. When thinking about making such calls, companies should make sure they have obtained proper consent, and that vendors they work with know how to – and do – follow the TSR’s many procedural requirements.