Fed Up With Robocalls and Telemarketers? (choose your weapon)

Category: Telephony

It’s a dirty job, but somebody has got to do it so the rest of us can enjoy the benefits of living in a civilized society. I’m talking about actually talking to telemarketers. Why? To sue them, of course! Here's how it works, and some tips on getting relief from those annoying telemarketing and robocalls...

Tired of Telemarketers? Take Action!

Among the options for dealing with annoying robocalls and harassing telemarketers are technology and lawsuits. I've written before about tools you can use to limit the number of unwanted phone calls. But did you know you could sue a telemarketer?

Quite a few people have suffered the indignity of having a conversation with a telemarketer, in order to gather enough information to sue their persecutors. And more often than not these heroes have realized substantial monetary awards.

The world record may belong to Ms. Araceli King, who was awarded $229,500 in her federal lawsuit against Time-Warner Cable a few years ago. TWC robocalled her cell phone number over 153 times trying to reach a “Luis Perez” who previously owned that phone number and was behind on his cable bill. Ms. King told TWC repeatedly that she wasn’t Luis Perez, and asked that the calls stop. But they didn’t, so she had to take action to save her sanity.

Even after she filed the lawsuit, TWC robocalled her 73 more times. The judge in this case awarded King $1,500 per call. That's not chump change!

How to Sue Telemarketers

On a smaller scale, my friend, Dave, sued a finance company that called him just once, for a total of $2,500. Colorado’s do-not-call law holds liable anyone who “makes or causes to be made” a telemarketing call to someone on the list. So Dave sued the caller, her manager, the company’s VP of sales, its president, and the corporate “person” for $500 each. Within 24 hours of serving five small claims court summonses at the firm’s HQ, he got a $1,000 settlement check in exchange for about an hour’s worth of work and $35 paid to a process server. That’s a pretty good return on his investment!

Finding multiple $500 causes of action in a single telemarketing call is the key to making lawsuits worthwhile. Many consumers know that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 gives consumers the right to sue for damages when they receive phone calls that violate the Act. But most people mistakenly believe their damages are limited to $500 per call. In fact, it’s $500 per violation, and most illegal calls contain several violations.

The TCPA established the national Do Not Call Registry. If you put your home or mobile phone number on the do-not-call list, all telemarketers have 31 days to scrub your number from their call lists. If you get more than one telemarketing call after that, it’s worth $500.

FCC Rules Limiting Telemarketers and Robocalls

If you're not feeling litigious, there are other steps you can take to stop unwanted phone calls. See my article Are We Winning the Robocall Wars?. Check it out for tips on how to block unwanted calls on your landline, VoIP, or smartphone.

The FCC rules implementing the TCPA were updated in October 2013, to tighten protections for consumers. Unfortunately, political and charitable telemarketing calls are still immune. The following restrictions apply only to “for-profit” calls.

All regulated telemarketing calls to landline or cellphone numbers, except those that are manually dialed and do not contain a recorded message, are now prohibited without the consumer’s prior written consent. Note that your number does not have to be on the Do Not Call registry to be protected against automated or even partially automated calls.

The “established business relationship” loophole has been eliminated, so a company can no longer harass you for 18 months after your last dealing with it. If you get an unwanted “follow-up” call, say you don’t want any further calls. If you get one, that’s another $500.

But wait, there’s more money in each call! If the telemarketer blocks his caller-ID, that’s another violation worth $500. If he doesn’t state the name of his company at the beginning of the call, that’s another $500. If he does not provide his phone number at the beginning of the call, that’s another $500. If a telemarketer won’t give his physical address, that’s another $500 If you request a written copy of his “do not call list policy” and don’t receive it in a reasonable amount of time, that’s another $500.

The FCC rules change also gave consumers the right to sue in federal court; previously, TCPA violations had to be adjudicated in State courts, most often small claims courts. That lifts jurisdictional restrictions and caps on damages; the sky is the limit, as Ms. King demonstrated with TWC.

It’s usually easy to find several thousand dollars’ worth of damages in a single telemarketer’s call. You just have to take good notes and give the caller enough rope to hang himself. That means (ugh!) talking to a live telemarketer.

Do a Little Digging...

If your call starts as an automated robocall, there will be an option to get a live rep on the line. From there, your objective is to get as much information out of the telemarketer as possible without revealing any sensitive information about yourself. Your strategy should be to sound interested in whatever the caller is selling; that keeps him talking while you ask questions. If you sound like a “live one” you’ll eventually talk to an employee of the company you want to sue. It may take several rounds of calls to get that person on the line.

Now you can double your money by suing the telemarketing firm and its client, the business that hired the telemarketer. You can triple your damages to $1,500 per violation if the violation(s) are deemed to be “willful.” Time-Warner Cable tried to claim that it didn’t know Araceli King was not its deadbeat customer; the judge ruled that TWC had plenty of notice, and failed to act upon it.

It’s usually unnecessary to go to court if you have well-documented evidence of TCPA violations. A hefty letter to a company’s CEO containing all the evidence that you intend to present to a court and the total damages that you intend to claim will generally draw a swift settlement offer. You may have to rebut bogus claims like TWC’s “we didn’t know” nonsense. Just ignore threats of countersuits and other empty bluster. Declare a deadline for settling and stick to it.

If you decide to proceed with your own lawsuit, the place to file is in Small Claims court. NOLO is a well-respected source for do-it-yourself legal guides, and they have a comprehensive set of Q&A's on rules and strategies for bringing your dispute to small claims court.. It covers questions such as "Where should I file my small claims lawsuit?," "How much can I sue for in small claims court?," and "What should I do to prepare my small claims case?"

For additional details on the TCPA and tips for successfully suing telemarketers, I recommend two books. The first is Steve Ostrow’s How To Sue A Telemarketer: A Manual For Restoring Peace On Earth One Phone Call At A Time. Ostrow is a former trial attorney and small-claims court judge who now does stand-up comedy impersonating Kramer from the TV series, “Seinfeld.” His book is amusing as well as informative.

Another is Trey Specht's How to Make Money From the Do Not Call List: A Step-by-Step Guide to Suing Telemarketers for Profit. Specht is an engineer who has pursued many TCPA cases over the years, and wants to share his experience on the successes and pitfalls of the process. You can read portions of the both books via the Look Inside feature at Amazon.

Have you ever taken action (legal or otherwise) against a telemarketer? Tell me about it! Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Fed Up With Robocalls and Telemarketers? (choose your weapon)"

(See all 24 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Michael Kulick
31 Aug 2020

RE: Robocalls. Been a reader for some time and truly appreciate the info shared with us. In reading this post and how to stop these calls there is one very important point needs to be made. Most of the robocalls generated in the U.S. have stopped.

However, the most prevalent calls are for car warranty and Visa card interest reduction along with scams for medical alert items and knee braces that are generated overseas and using spoofed numbers! On average, receive about 2 per day and always the recorded messages and of course, not being discriminatory, always answered by very heavily accented Indian or other Far Eastern person and even once in a while a female and yes, same accent!

Point is, even with spam blocking, these "crooks" use spoofed numbers, so the call always comes through and if not answered, leaves voice mail. Many of these calls show from hospitals and/or major banks, e.g. so there is no way to ascertain if they should be answered. We are helpless to stop these unless the major carriers, AT&T, Verizon, etc. use trace-back calling to stop these calls before they reach us at home. Seems that for some reason, carriers are not in a hurry to implement these systems and I assume that is because it is a major source of income! Your thoughts, please and thanks. Mike K

Posted by:

31 Aug 2020

It's been a few days since I got a robo call. What I do is answer, and then set the phone down and let them run through their spiel. Before long they realize I'm not on the phone and hang up. I think, but of course don't know, that the robo call industry tags my number as a, "don't bother with him, you'll be wasting your time."

Same thing with political surveys in the mail. Give them the answers they don't want and eventually they quit wasting time and money surveying me.

Posted by:

31 Aug 2020

Nomorobo is a lifesaver. Set it up at Nomorobo.com. It works on landlines and cells.

Posted by:

Danny G
31 Aug 2020

You say: "
The FCC rules change also gave consumers the right to sue in federal court;

But then say to sue on small claims.

Posted by:

31 Aug 2020

Two rules 1. Never answer a call not on your contact list.
2. Any biz gets text *** *** **** and leave name and number
I never get calls from someone I don't know.

Posted by:

31 Aug 2020

" The following restrictions apply only to “for-profit” calls."

And yet political calls are excepted? With all the calls I've gotten this election season, one can hardly consider them as 'non-profit' organizations.

Posted by:

Bob S
31 Aug 2020

I don't feel I can just answer calls from my contact list. I get calls from my Medicare supplemental insurance carrier and my doctors with important information. However most often, they don't have their business name appear. I find this frustrating. Why is this so hard for them to do? Why can't they be forced to do it?

Posted by:

B. Lindberg
31 Aug 2020

If I'm in the mood - and have time - I engage them for as long as possible. Once every avenue has been explored, I begin to sound less and less capable of making a decision. I have various ridiculous avenues I can lead them down. Towards the end I tell them that I'm not allowed to sign anything, and they should talk to my guardian ad-litem, and that he'll be sure to buy their extended car warranty or whatever. And I give them a fake number and name. Call frequency goes down, but after a couple months resumes again.It's amazing how long some telemarketers will persist if they think you might be a sucker for their great deal.

Posted by:

01 Sep 2020

I think the situation has changed, making much of the above advice (about getting back at telemarketers) more and more obsolete. Almost every unwanted call I get now, whether on landline or cell, has a spoofed number, usually a local one. Sometimes you can tell its a VOIP number from the very long and cryptic name showing on the Call-ID. It's obvious that these calls are not even from responsible companies that you could possibly identify and sue. The fake numbers simply mimic real ones that belong to hapless people who have no idea their numbers appear as the Call-ID of robocalls received by others (unless maybe they get an angry return call from one of them, as I did once). The idea that you can get any malevolent callers to identify themselves these days is laughable. If you press to speak to a live person, they respond to any probing question about their identity by just hanging up on you.

While some people may feel that hanging up (whether by you or the spammer) is a satisfactory way of dealing with these calls, you need to realize that the primary problem is not that you sometimes find yourself listening to (or speaking with) the increasingly rare legitimate sales caller. It's not even that you hear people trying to pull a scam or to get your personal information. The real problem is that your daily activities (or your periods of rest) keep getting interrupted, often at very inconvenient times, just by you hearing the ring of these unwanted calls and looking at the Call ID or listening to the voicemails they left. So I have found that the "whitelist" approach, using certain cellphone apps or landline call-ID screeners, is the only way to achieve peace. But then I need to manage that technique carefully to insure that callers I do want to hear from are not screened out because I neglected to keep my "OK" list up-to-date. Thankfully, any legit caller who gets screened out by mistake will leave a voicemail (which most spammers don't anymore) so I am still able to respond promptly to any important calls I missed.

Posted by:

Forrest Meckling
01 Sep 2020

In the last month or so I have gotten several spam/robocalls and when I answer I get someone speaking in (I believe) Chinese. They come from the NY or NYC Area Code. What is with that??? I can't fight back if I don't understand the language.

Posted by:

Peter Oh
01 Sep 2020

Kevins post sums up the real problems very well.
It's nigh impossible to obtain a legit phone contact or address or even company name. Any probing questions meet with an abrupt hang up.
The unwanted calls often come at really inconvenient times & I'd guess I get more bogus calls than genuine calls, often the phone rings & nobody is there.
The "Do Not Call List" is a joke, most calls, here in Australia at least, originate from Asia & they have never even heard of such lists.

Posted by:

01 Sep 2020

Here in France we don't have the protection that y'all enjoy against persistent callers. We are fighting back by wasting the callers' time (we are retired) and having fun by declaring "I'm in the john at the moment" and following up with some extravagant lavatorial sounds. My partner uses a different technique, she lets the caller ramble on about the solar heating or whatever they are selling, then accuses the woman of being the devious little minx with designs on her husband and trying to break up their marriage, with lots of pretend anger and threatening to go round her house and beat her up.
Doesn't stop the calls, but gives us some fun.

Posted by:

01 Sep 2020

Both landline and cell phones are equipped with blocking all calls except those on my list. The problem is I can't use it because I have several friends and family who block their number from showing on caller-ID. So if they tried calling me they would be blocked from my phones. So I have to suffer through the robocalls and block the individual caller ID numbers. Checking my cell phone there appear to be hundreds if not thousands of blocked numbers. And yes, I received a robocall from my own number and complaining calls asking me to stop calling them.

Posted by:

Steven Latus
01 Sep 2020

Nomorobo is fantastic! It is FREE for use on VOIP landlines; it is NOT available for POTS copper landlines. It also works on cell phones (Android and IOS) but for that you must pay $1.99 per month. We have it on our landline but not on our cell phones since we don't receive near as many spam calls on them.

Posted by:

Dennis Reynolds
02 Sep 2020

What do you do when they "spoof" local numbers ? It looks like a local call but it's a car warranty call. If you call the number back, it's a little old lady that never called you. Saturday, I had 5 calls from 5 different numbers, all from the same company selling a car warranty.

Posted by:

02 Sep 2020

Fred: As you point out, certain friends and family who block their numbers would get treated the same as spam callers if you were to use the "whitelist" method of screening calls. But since it's only a finite number of people doing that, and they are known to you, why not advise them to make a habit of pressing *82 just before dialing your number. This will unblock their caller ID for that one call they make to you. Of course, they may not remember to do that each time, but most people dial from a contact list anyway (or via a landline dialer). So your number in their contact list can simply be reprogrammed by them to automatically dial *82 ahead of your number anytime they call you.

This is a one-time programming step on their part that will let you to re-establish the phone privacy you need. So go ahead and restore the blocking of non-contact callers after letting these few friends know what to do. If they are not considerate enough to help help you out in this easy way, then they will simply have to reach you by leaving voicemail. But if you really want them to appreciate your position, consider programming your phone to not just block all the actual spam calls you receive but to also forward those calls to these so-called friends of yours.

Posted by:

02 Sep 2020

The DO NOT CALL REGISTRY does not work. Been on it for years and I still get calls daily. ITS A JOKE

Posted by:

03 Sep 2020

I've been getting 3 calls a day, each from different numbers and I'm getting so tired of it!
My phone provider alerts me of potential Fraud or Scam calls, so I never answer the call. Then I block the number.
This has been going on for most of July and August. I block each and every number and report most of them (I'm too lazy to write a note for each one...).
So, recently, I've been answering 'some' of the calls and answering with the following message.
Hi! You've reached Janice from the Vernon RCMP Fraud Department. How may I help you?
No one responds and they always hang up.
But the calls never stop. They just keep on coming in from a new number.
Ugh :(

Posted by:

04 Sep 2020

"Oh, let me get my debit card". Then go take a nap.

Posted by:

Steve Bohne
24 Nov 2020

I sell insurance via the phone. We do not cold call people, someone has to take an overt action for us to call them. It never ceases to amaze me how people think they are on the DNC list. If you put yourself on the DNC list and then fill out ANY form ANYWHERE looking for information, you are now no longer on the DNC list.

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