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New rules for telemarketing calls and text messages

The Federal Communications Commission has adopted new rules that strictly limit telemarketing calls and text messages.

Businesses can no longer make pre-recorded calls to landline phones, and can no longer send pre-recorded calls, auto-dialed calls, or text messages to cell phones. The only exception is if the business has the “prior express written consent” of the customer.

This prior written consent must be very clear, and the customer must be told that providing a phone number is not a condition of making a purchase. The customer must actually provide the number; it can’t be “pre-populated” on a form.

Pre-recorded calls are now illegal without written consent even if the company already has an established business relationship with the customer.

Pre-recorded calls must also provide an automated, interactive “opt-out” mechanism for the recipient to request no further telemarketing calls. Messages left on an answering machine must provide a toll-free number that the recipient can use to opt out.

You should be aware that some call-center software might be considered a form of “auto-dialing” even though a human being is also involved in placing the call.

There are some exceptions to these rules for messages from phone companies, health care providers, schools and debt collectors.

Violators can be severely punished, including court awards of $500 to $1,500 for every illegal call or message.

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