The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a joint state-and-federal initiative, “Operation Call It Quits,” which targets illegal telemarketing practices that violate the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR).
The TSR, which applies to interstate telephonic marketing communications intended to “induce the purchase of goods or services or a charitable contribution,” makes it illegal to engage in “abusive” acts and practices like failing to transmit caller identification information, calling telephone numbers listed on the National Do Not Call Registry, and using certain types of prerecorded messages or “robocalls.” The TSR also makes it illegal to engage in “deceptive” acts and practices while on a telemarketing call, like processing billing information without authorization, failing to fully disclose certain information before a customer consents to pay for goods or services, and misrepresenting material details of a sale. As part of this latest sweep of TSR enforcement, the FTC announced four newly filed actions:
- In the first action, the FTC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida against corporate and individual defendants alleged to have made illegal robocalls to “financially distressed consumers” with offers of “bogus credit card interest rate reduction services.”
- In the second action, the FTC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against individual and corporate defendants accused of using illegal robocalls to sell “fraudulent money-making opportunities.”
- The third action, filed on the FTC’s behalf by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in the Middle District of Florida, targeted the “informational technology (IT) guy” alleged to have developed and operated computer-based “autodialer” technology used to make millions of illegal robocalls.
- The fourth action, filed by the DOJ on the FTC’s behalf in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleges that a business and its individual owners sought to develop marketing leads for home solar energy companies by making millions of illegal robocalls and engaging in other abusive practices, including making more than 1,000 calls to a single telephone number in one year.
In addition to these newly filed actions, the FTC announced related efforts by state Attorneys General, state consumer protection and tax agencies, local municipalities, and other law enforcement partners.
This latest round of state-and-federal enforcement highlights the FTC’s ongoing efforts to stamp out violations of the TSR. It also demonstrates the substantial risk faced by organizations that perform everyday marketing and customer service functions over the phone. Judgments and consent orders for alleged TSR violations routinely result in penalties of multiple millions of dollars – and sometimes reach tens of millions of dollars. In addition to compliance with the TSR, businesses engaged in telemarketing must be mindful of related Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations that, among other things, make most telemarketing robocalls to cellphones illegal. In this enforcement climate, it is helpful for organizations that communicate with consumers by phone to: (i) consider which of their marketing and customer service practices implicate the TSR and related FCC’s telemarketing regulations; (ii) review and update their compliance procedures consistent with current FTC and FCC requirements; and (iii) perform related risk assessments.