Fed Up With Telemarketers? (here's the solution)

Category: Telephony

It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s 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 annoying robocalls...

Tired of Telemarketers? Take Action!

Quite a few citizens 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 in August, 2014. 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. King told TWC repeatedly that she wasn’t Perez and asked that the calls stop, but they didn’t.

Even after she filed the lawsuit, TWC robocalled her 73 more times. The judge in this case awarded King $1,500 per call.

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 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.

New 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 Need Robocall Relief? Here's How to Fight Back. 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 2013 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...

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 how the Small Claims process works. 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, see Steve Ostrow’s book, 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 and Web site are amusing as well as informative. You can read portions of the book via the Preview feature at Amazon.

Have you ever taken action 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 Telemarketers? (here's the solution)"

(See all 33 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

30 Jan 2018

I like the idea of filing Small Claims Court actions against abusive telemarketers but this article doesn't discuss the issue of jurisdiction for filing the actions. I'm very familiar with filing small claims actions in California and know that the court requires you to prove that it has jurisdiction to hear the matter and that it also has juridiction over the party you are suing. This is known as "personal jurisdiction". Usually this means proving that the party you are suing has a presence or minimal contacts in the state, county or city where you file the action. I'm not an attorney but wonder how you would establish jurisdiction over a telemarketer calling you from outside the state or even country?? How would you determine where the action should be filed?? Is the fact that you received a phone call at the area where you live sufficient to establish jurisdiction over a non-resident of that area??

Posted by:

30 Jan 2018

I've been on the Do Not Call Registry for several years, but I still get sales calls from various "companies" and "services" I've never heard of, both "live" and robocalls. My phone/internet service is through Cox, and doesn't work with NoMoRobo. I've tried reporting to the DoNotCall website (there's a form there), but it doesn't seem to resolve anything.

Posted by:

30 Jan 2018

Does this apply to foreign based telemarketers? A lot of US companies outsource telemarketing to foreign countries. With the spoofing of legitimate customer names when calling could this result in someone being incorrectly identified as the source of the call and being sued? For example, a telemarketer uses someone's name to spoof caller ID and someone assumes the name on the caller ID is the actual source of the telemarketing call.

Posted by:

30 Jan 2018

Back in the day I received many calls because of the last 4 numbers. Gas stations, pizza shops, car tow. First chance to unlisted number and let your answer do thing its. I was called to court 1000.00, next call looking fore this person late pay. All calls to unlisted numbers can only work once.

Posted by:

Daniel Wiener
30 Jan 2018

I get between 1 and 4 telemarketing calls each day (sometimes more) to what used to be my land line home phone. But I have now transferred that number to Google Voice, which functions as an answering machine. It also sends me an email for each call, along with a (pretty good quality) transcript of the message (if the caller leaves one).

The result is that I can simply ignore the 90% of calls in which the telemarketer hangs up rather than leave a message, along with another 5% of calls in which the telemarketer (usually a robo-call machine rather than a human) bothers to leave a message which the transcript indicates is a sales pitch. The remaining 5% of the the calls are valid (e.g., a doctor's office reminding me of an upcoming appointment) which I can tell from reading the transcript (and usually don't need to return the call).

This has worked quite well for several years now. Even though this number is in the National Do Not Call registry,I don't worry about the numerous violations because they don't significantly waste my time.

Posted by:

30 Jan 2018

How about POTS landlines? Nomorobo seems to only work with voip landlines. Is there a service that works with the "old fashioned" landlines?

EDITOR'S NOTE: The best solution for landlines is to forward your number to a Google Voice number. GV will filter out most of the bogus calls.

Posted by:

31 Jan 2018

There is a device called "Call Control" that is supposed to work on landlines. It works in conjunction with The "Call Control" app on your phone. Amazon sells one although Amazon claims it only works with iPhones. However, there is an android app now. All that said, I have one and have had trouble getting it to work. When I get the time I plan to spend some time with their customer support and see if I can get it to work properly.

Posted by:

31 Jan 2018

The number of repetitive calls to my cell phone have escalated exponentially in just the last 8 weeks. There are many free apps available for both android and iphones that will block any number not in your contacts list. I am giving the free version of Call Blacklist a try and if it works out I may even spring for the $2 pro version which allows you to block on a day of the week/time of day schedule. It rings the phone for about a half ring, but then automatically blocks it and logs the call. The caller can also leave a voice mail, so if the plumber calls and they are not in your contacts, at least you'll get a vm.

Posted by:

31 Jan 2018

I still find it just as easy to ignore them......when my phone rings, if I don't recognize the number, I just touch one of the volume controls which mutes the ringer......if they leave a message, it's legitimate, and I will return the call.....no message means it's junk, and I didn't miss a thing.

Posted by:

31 Jan 2018

Call your carrier, IOP or Land Line and ask if they support "nomorobo." ATT does not because they make too much money off of this kind of call line. If they support "nomorobo, have them apply the program to your phone line. The phone rings once and only once before disconnecting the call if the call is from a robo caller. We were receiving up to six robo calls daily because of the nuts who had our number before we got it responded to every call until they went broke. Since having our IOP carrier activate this program on our line, we receive zero robo calls, just one ring calls, then silence.

Posted by:

Bernie Crowley
31 Jan 2018

Most calls received have spoofed caller ID's, usually from disconnected numbers or phony area codes. A call blocker with a 1500 capacity phone list has done the trick as calls go through the blocker before reaching the actual phone line. Several manufacturers produce these devices, and some come with an established list of known bogus numbers.

Posted by:

31 Jan 2018

I live in the UK and use Sky for my landline. Last year they offered a free service. When the phone rings Sky takes the call and asks for the name of the caller. If I know the caller I press 1 to be connected or 2 to reject the call. For people known to me and regular callers pressing the star key gives them permanent access. Since this system was implemented I have not received any nuisance calls. I even thought perhaps my phone was not working as the number of calls dropped so much.

Posted by:

31 Jan 2018

For landlines. Somewhere I got a Tele-Zapper. A little box plugged into the phone line. When a robo call comes in, it sends a tone back to the sender. My phone rings once. It is blocking 4 or 5 calls a day. I see they are on Ebay for about $20.

Posted by:

31 Jan 2018

It is tough to get a call back number to really identify them since they spoofed the caller ID. And, then it is often a prepaid phone that can't be traced. Anyway, one thing that has often worked -- Say, "Oh, just a second. Someone's at the door." Then wait a few seconds and say "I need to take care of this person at the door. Can I call you back?" Sometimes they will give it to you if you sell the fact that you are interested.

Posted by:

31 Jan 2018

I also like to use the "Hang on, someone's at the door" method just to waste their time, while I process with whatever I was doing.

Sometimes is can be a game. One time, I frustrated the caller so bad that he finally shouted, "WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU?"

Posted by:

01 Feb 2018

Most spam calls are not the kind that the techniques in the article will work on, for several reasons:

First, many of them just ring once or twice with nobody on the line when you answer. These are pilot calls made robotically to identify which lines are picked up by potential suckers (or their answering machines) and which are not. Later, new calls are made to that first group with a live representative standing by to talk with the victim. Of course, just because they hang up (or you never pick up an unknown call in the first place) doesn't mean you were not bothered by the ringing and then the need to go and look at the Call-ID.

Second, all these calls are made from spoofed numbers. In fact, if you tried to call them back, you would usually reach either a "not-in-service" recording or a perennial busy signal. In some cases, they may offer a bogus "take-me-off-your-list" option, but trying to opt out will not stop the calls. In fact, it merely confirms to their computers that there IS a live person at your number who has the spare time (and the naïveté) to actually call back. It almost never results in them taking you off their "list". The exception may be when the caller is a responsible company that had some initial reason to believe you had already expressed an interest in them. (That kind of company or charity tends not to pester people with telemarketers in the first place.)

Third: Yes, you could pretend to be interested in a telemarketer's pitch, or to be falling for the caller's phishing scam. But the more you ask to know about THEM, the more likely they are to hang up. These people are instructed to dump a call if they believe their cover has been blown and simply move on to another one. Any info about them that you might actually get will be fake, especially if they have no legitimate purpose for which their real address and contact info would be necessary. These are the most frequent of the spam callers. The cloak their identity effectively and their only purpose is to steal from you.

Until legislation and technology can successfully prevent the spoofing of Call-ID altogether, we must rely on filtering services along with programmable callblocking devices. The best devices offer wild-card blocking (e.g., of entire area codes). Even better, some include a "whitelist" mode to use if you are confident you can list ALL the numbers (or wildcards) that you want to allow calls from... and then let it block all others. I'm lucky to have the most versatile callblocker ever made for landlines, but the manufacturer went out of business long ago, leaving this particular model almost impossible to find now.

Posted by:

01 Feb 2018

Once these jokers get you number they will harass you forever, and filing complaints are next to useless. I'm with one of the Bells and they offer a service that forces all calls to press a certain number after the ring asks them to push if they aren't telemarketers. Works real good because most of these idiots can't dial out or push a button, so the call is dropped, it cleared up 99% of these trash calls.

Another thing to get is the CPR Callblocker and comes preset to block all international calls and known telemarketers, works real good.



Posted by:

Bob Greene
01 Feb 2018

Worse than unsolicited robo-calls, however, is unsolicited email. According to the rules, every emailed message of sales promotion should have an "Unsubscribe" option. However, violators ignore the first request, then a second, and a third...

Publishers like the LA Times are very bad on compliance, ignoring polite requests in writing, not to mention a simple button-click to unsubscribe.
Unlike phone solicitation violations, email abuse gets little respect.

Posted by:

02 Feb 2018

I used to get calls from a robocaller in Washington state all the time. They were offering a "free service" to either clean my gutters or my carpet. Never did get past that part as I don't live there anymore but my area code is from there.(VOIP) I wonder if that's permissible since it's "free". I figure there's some scam attached. I usually hold on line for "HI, this is Heather from account "clik". I really don't have need of these calls, but the worst is the one you pick up and get "please hold for our next available representative". Those really raise my blood pressure.

Posted by:

Bernie Crowley
02 Jan 2019

Century Link offers a "distinctive ring" for $5.00/month which is an additional number with two rings instead of the traditional one long ring using the same phone line as your home phone; it is not a different phone line, just a different ring. There is no voice mail with the additional number, it is not published, and you can't call from it.

Give this number to family and friends and let voice mail answer all other calls to your original home phone.

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