DNC Requests: No Means No

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently settled a telemarketing enforcement action that it brought against Americall Group, Inc., based on allegations that the Illinois telemarketing firm interfered with the right of consumers to be placed on companies’ internal do-not-call lists, and that it disguised its identity on caller ID.

Americall, a telemarketer specializing in calls on behalf of banks, credit card issuers, insurance companies, and other financial institutions, was accused of instructing its agents to “interfere” with DNC requests based in part upon its company training manuals, which stated that consumer statements like “Don’t call me back,” or “I do not accept solicitation calls,” should not result in a consumer’s placement on the internal do-not-call list of the entity on whose behalf the agent has called.

The FTC alleged that this policy violated the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), which requires all telemarketers to place consumers on an internal DNC list when requested by a consumer.   Clearly, the FTC views non-specific statements such as the ones above, which do not include the words “do-not-call list,” as being sufficient to trigger the requirement.

Obviously, all telemarketers would prefer to limit the erosion of their data from constant consumer DNC requests, so it is not surprising that Americall took a narrower view of language of the TSR requirement.  It is equally unsurprising that the FTC employed a more expansive view of the TSR’s language, especially in a case like this, where statements like “don’t call me anymore” clearly express a desire not to receive further calls*.

The enforcement action is a reminder of the perils of disregarding a clear DNC request, regardless of how it is expressed.  All training manuals should take the same expansive view of DNC requests as favored by the FTC: if a consumer even hints that he or she does not want to be called again, remove them from your list.

Likewise, the FTC’s complaint serves as yet another wake-up call for those telemarketers that are still tempted to disguise their identities on Caller ID. The TSR requires all calls to be identified as coming from either the telemarketer or the company on whose behalf the call is made.  A general description of some aspect of the offer (i.e., “gas rebate”) is insufficient.

While it is true that calls identified on Caller ID as “gas rebate” or “special information” are more likely to be answered (and thus far more likely to convert than calls that are not), misleading consumers – even in a relatively innocuous manner- will not win any points with the government.

The Americall settlement should serve as a cautionary tale of the perils of disregarding two relatively simple requirements of the TSR.  As stated by David Vladeck, the Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, “When it comes to the Do Not Call provisions, compliance is not rocket science.”



Author: Seth Heyman
Seth D. Heyman is a California attorney with extensive experience in advertising and marketing law, corporate law, contracts, governmental regulations, international business, and Internet law. He has counseled numerous successful companies, both public and private, and was responsible for regulatory compliance, contract management, corporate governance, and HR best practices for multiple organizations in many diverse industries, including marketing, telecommunications, energy, and technology development. He offers insight and guidance on federal and state direct mail, TV, radio, telemarketing, and Internet marketing laws, as well as online promotions, Internet privacy, data protection regulations, and similar matters.

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