When is it Illegal?
All information provided here comes from the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), codified in 47 U.S.C. 227. The law was originally passed in 1991 and has been amended by the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 and the Junk Fax Prevention Act of 2005. These regulations alone provide the backbone of every defense against the undesired cash calls that hound annuitants.
First and most importantly: the TCPA requires that companies respect the wishes not to be contacted by anyone who has put their phone number on either the National Do-Not-Call Registry, or on a company’s internal Do-Not-Call Registry. The TCPA obliges all companies engaged in sales calls to maintain such a registry as to complement the national registry in the event that a person decides to accept calls from one company and not another. If a person is on either the internal do-not-call list or the national list then that person shall not be contacted for a period of 5 years.
It is important for annuitants to be aware that if you have expressly instructed, requested, or demanded that a company stop contacting you, then that company is obliged to honor your wishes for a period of 5 years. If a company calls again, they are in violation. An annuitant is not required to be a part of the National Do-Not-Call Registry to avoid unwanted calls. All one must do is inform the solicitor not to call again. If you are already on the National Do-Not-Call Registry, then any call made to you is in violation of the TCPA.
Under no circumstances are the use of auto-dialing phone systems or systems that use pre-recorded messages permissible to cell phones, emergency lines (i.e. 911), hospitals, assisted living or elderly care homes, or any mobile device permitted. Pre-recorded messages or messages that use an artificial voice, are not permitted at all, unless in emergency situations.
Each violation of the TCPA comes with a penalty of between $500 to $1,500 per contact attempt. This isn’t a case of $1,500 for a single attempt to contact someone, when it took seven calls before a potential customer picked up the phone. If a company has attempted to contact an annuitant seven times, and each time is a violation, then a fine between $3,500 to $10,500 can be levied. In addition to fines, violators are also subject to injunctions.
As an annuitant, there are few cases when contact with you is regarded as a perfectly fair and legal in terms of a phone call. If you are using a cell phone, only companies that have done business with you in the past are legally permitted to contact you regarding previous business conducted. If at any point you instruct the company not to contact you again, they are obliged to honor that for 5 years regardless of the previous business relationship for the purpose of sales. If they contact you as a result of a contractual relationship or as routine business practice that has nothing to do with making future sales, then the call is perfectly acceptable and is not in violation of the TCPA. Likewise, informational phone calls are also acceptable. The primary protection that the TCPA affords you is in terms of sales. If a call can be seen as making a sale of some kind, then the call can be seen as a violation of the TCPA.
If there is a time lag between you answering the phone and when someone responds on the other line, it may indicate the use of an auto-dialing machine. Use of such a machine is strictly prohibited at all times for the purposes of sales calls and therefore the company is in violation of the TCPA.
Deceptive Sales Tactics
The TCPA obliges all callers to identify both themselves and the companies they represent, along with appropriate contact information for the reference of the potential customer, in this case the annuitant. A phone number, e-mail address, and physical mailing address are all to be provided without the express request or demand of the annuitant. If the salesman is evasive or fails to properly identify himself or herself, this is a violation of the TCPA; if the annuitant asks for contact information and is refused, this is an automatic violation. Regardless of whether the annuitant receives the information up front or asks and then receives the information, if the information is false or misleading, then the call is in violation of the TCPA. Basically, if someone is pretending to call from another company an annuitant may have had a previous business relationship with, this is a complete violation of the TCPA.
What can you do?
Join the National Do-Not-Call Registry from the phone you don’t want to receive calls on. Please go to https://www.donotcall.gov/ to add your number to the list or file a complaint.
Beyond filing a complaint with the proper agency, be aware that there may be class action suits for you to be a part of. Companies that engage in aggressive sales tactics (www.factoringethics.com for more information) by not respecting either their own internal do-not-call registries or the national registry must be stopped cold in their tracks. Take a stand and recover potential damages from them by contacting an attorney.