Make Money By Suing Telemarketers?

Category: Telephony

Paging Mike Rowe! 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 talking to telemarketers. Why? To sue them, of course! Here's how it works...

Fed Up With 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 articles Stop Unwanted Phone Calls and FCC Cracks Down on Robocalls for some tips.

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 "Make Money By Suing Telemarketers?"

Posted by:

14 Sep 2015

Do you know what the statute of limitations is on filing a claim of this nature? I wish I had known sooner that it might actually be worth pursuing - shortly after I got my new cell phone number, I got a call from one of those cash-advance places - evidently, a customer who was behind on his payments had previously had my number. I didn't blame them for the first call - I called them back and politely explained that they had the wrong number (the customer's name was included in the recording). They kept calling. And calling. And calling. EVERY TIME, I called them back; I finally went into one of their locations, talked to the manager, and we got on the phone together to talk to someone higher up in the chain of command. They still kept calling! I finally blocked my number through my cell phone company - I think the block lasted for 90 days, and I had to do it twice, because I think about the first day after the first block expired, I got another phone call!

Posted by:

14 Sep 2015

This is good to know. Thank you!

It beats putting my cell phone in my grand piano and giving the piano a bang! Although it did stop that particular telemarketer from calling me again. :)

Posted by:

14 Sep 2015

Thanks Bob for a very interesting article. Mike

Posted by:

Al. S
14 Sep 2015

I was constantly getting calls for some woman, she has the same cell numbers as I but in a different County and Area Code. I contacted a Legal firm that had me install a program called Legal Call Blocker. It list every call made to me Cell and 2 House phones. I can check which are OK and if the others are from unauthorized callers. While I was talking to a clerk at the Law Firm I received a call on my cell phone. I placed it on speaker and the clerk heard me telling them to stop calling. The Collection Agency insulted me and said that they would call as much as and when they felt like it. I signed an agreement to sue the caller.

This firm sues in Federal Court where the penalty is much higher than in State Courts.Eventually they were able to reach a settlement to which I agreed. I received 2 checks in the amount of $6000.00 about a month apart. The firm received $3500.00. I don't know if I can mention the name of the Law Firm, if I can I will post it in a follow up.

Posted by:

14 Sep 2015

I signed up with nomorobo and these calls have essentially stopped. Well, we still get one ring, but that's it.

Posted by:

Robert Bailey
14 Sep 2015

Good info. Thanks. Keep up the good work.

Posted by:

14 Sep 2015

Wow. I changed my Comcast phone number because of calls I got for three different individuals that kept repeating. With the second phone number, I got five calls for the on e individual, all from Comcast for a previous owner of that phone. I didn't think there was another company in the US that stupid in America, but you've proved me wrong. Time Warner is evidently even dumber. What a coincidence: they're both monopolies! Aren't monopolies wonderful?

Posted by:

Jim R
14 Sep 2015

I read a few years ago that most companies that lose in small claims court ignore the decision of the court which has limited authority to enforce the decision.

Posted by:

14 Sep 2015

How does this work if the telemarketer is located in a foreign country? Since they are not physically located in the United States would they be outside of US jurisdiction? I remember asking a telemarketer who was based in Pakistan to be removed from their calling list since I am on the no call list but he told me that since his company isn't a US company he doesn't have to comply with the US do-no-call laws even though he works for a US telemarketing company. Is he correct?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Maybe, but you can still sue the US-based company on behalf of which he's calling.

Posted by:

14 Sep 2015

There is a similar law about junk faxes. I have a friend who was so fed up by junk faxes that he filed hundreds of lawsuits. He completely tied up one of the courts here in Silicon Valley. Then he filed a $2.2 Trillion lawsuit (yes that is Trillion with a T) and shut down the largest junk faxer.

See and also see

Posted by:

rob c
14 Sep 2015

How does this work for international calls, say US to Canada with separate do not call lists?

Posted by:

Daniel Wiener
15 Sep 2015

I get an average of about two or three telemarketing calls a day on what used to be our land line. Back when we actually had a land line it was very annoying, especially since it would kick off the DSL signal on that same physical line (which wasn't supposed to happen with proper line filters, but it still did). Even though all of our day-to-day telephone activity now takes place on our cell phones, we still get rare important calls on that old land line number, and I don't want to just drop it. So (as I've previously detailed here) I transferred that land line number to a temporary cell phone, and from there transferred it to Google Voice, with a voice-mail-only setting.

Now all of those telemarketing calls are diverted directly to Google Voice. In turn I get an email notification, along with a fairly accurate transcript if a message is actually left. But most of the time the telemarketer just hangs up without leaving a message. In either case, I can immediately see whether it's a real, important call or something to be ignored. My annoyance level has dropped to zero.

So your advice about suing telemarketers is interesting, and other people might find it profitable. But for me it's not worth my time or the added stress level. I've found an effective solution which I'm completely satisfied with.

Posted by:

15 Sep 2015

Jim R., no court will collect a judgement for you; that's your problem. But once you have a judgment, you can slap liens on company assets, seize bank accounts, and destroy a firm's credit rating.

Posted by:

15 Sep 2015

Gene said he uses nomorobo. Unfortunately, the line I get my robocalls on is an old AT&T landline (not U-verse). And AT&T (nor Verizon or others) offers the "simultaneous ring" feature on the old landlines. So I can't get nomorobo since it depends on that feature.


Posted by:

28 Sep 2015

I have received over a hundred calls from a company (JTeleMarketing) Located in Pakistan. I have asked them repeatedly to put me on their do not call list and they continue to call my work phone twice a day.

Any Advice here? 1) The phone number is owned by the company I work for 2) They are in a foreign country (Pakistan)

Posted by:

23 Nov 2015

I am a small, one man, self employed, contractor.
Because of the fact that I have a business phone number on my cell phone I cannot get on the do not call list. How do I stop Google and Yahoo from their robocalls? I have to turn off my phone at night and through the morning (my wife is a public bus driver, with a late shift). We are night owls, wake up late. Phone off. Potential customers, in our instant gratification society we live in today, can't wait. I lose business. Business in America today. Thank you very much, you a holes. Gary

EDITOR'S NOTE: Just curious, what makes you think that Google or Yahoo is calling you?

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