It usually happens just as you're sitting down to dinner with your family. The phone rings, you answer it, and then there is a long pause and perhaps a few clicks, followed by a well-rehearsed sales pitch or even a recorded message. Telemarketing is not necessarily illegal, and consumers often agree to such calls unknowingly, but telemarketers are bound to laws that place certain limits on how they conduct their business.
This article serves as an overview of telemarketing (telephone marketing) laws and regulations. For more consumer-based topics, see FindLaw's main Consumer Protection page.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) was passed in 1991 in response to consumer complaints of increased marketing calls and automated, pre-recorded messages. Invoking the authority of the TCPA, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enacted rules requiring telemarketers (defined as anyone soliciting you via telephone) to provide the following information:
Also, the TCPA prohibits telemarketers from calling your home before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.
The Telemarketing Sales Rule enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires additional disclosures and prohibits intentional misrepresentations. This rule also covers calls made by consumers in response to offers or solicitations made via the mail or the Internet. Use the following information to determine whether or not you are speaking with a legitimate telephone marketer:
Exceptions to the rule include catalog sales; consumer-initiated calls that are not in response to a solicitation; uncompleted sales; sales of pay-per-call services; calls responding to advertisements that already include all required disclosures; and consumer calls responding to general advertisements.
One way to limit telephone solicitations to your home or mobile phone is to register your number(s) with the national Do-Not-Call Registry. Commercial telemarketers are prohibited from calling any numbers that are on the Registry within 31 days of their listing. There are some exceptions, though, as the Registry does not prevent the following types of calls:
To register your home telephone or mobile phone number, either visit the national Do-Not-Call Registry online or call 1-888-382-1222 (TTY: 1-866-290-4236).
If a telemarketer calls you after 31 days of adding your number(s) to the Do-Not-Call Registry, then you may file a complaint via the FCC's electronic complaint form or by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (TTY: 1-888-TELL-FCC).
While telephone marketing calls can be annoying, sometimes a call that seems like a routine sales pitch actually is a scam. In fact, the FTC claims consumers lose billions of dollars each year to such fraudulent activity.
Scammers usually acquire numbers from telephone directories, mailing lists, and so-called "sucker lists" with the names and numbers of people who are known to have responded to telephone solicitations in the past. Similarly fraudulent solicitations are done via direct mail, advertisements in newspapers, or online (including email).
Often, the scammer will use one of the following methods in an attempt to separate you from your money:
Vacation Offers: Unsolicited calls offering a "free" or "discounted" travel package often are bogus and you may end up paying quite a bit in hidden costs and expenses.
Never give out personally identifiable information (especially your Social Security Number), bank account number, or credit card numbers to an unknown caller and always be suspicious of offers made by unsolicited callers. Consider speaking with a consumer protection lawyer if you believe you are the victim of a scam or have additional questions about telemarketing laws.