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New FTC Rule Prohibiting Robocalls Takes Effect Today

August 28, 2009

WASHINGTON — The Federal Trade Commission said beginning today prerecorded commercial telemarketing calls to consumers — commonly known as robocalls — will be prohibited, unless the telemarketer has obtained permission in writing from consumers who want to receive such calls.

“American consumers have made it crystal clear that few things annoy them more than the billions of commercial telemarketing robocalls they receive every year,” said Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC. “Starting Sept.1, this bombardment of prerecorded pitches, senseless solicitations, and malicious marketing will be illegal. If consumers think they’re being harassed by robocallers, they need to let us know, and we will go after them.”

The new requirement is part of amendments to the agency’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) that were announced a year ago. After Sept. 1, sellers and telemarketers who transmit prerecorded messages to consumers who have not agreed in writing to accept such messages will face penalties of up to $16,000 per call.

The rule amendments going into effect on Sept. 1 do not prohibit calls that deliver purely “informational” recorded messages — those that notify recipients, for example, that their flight has been cancelled, an appliance they ordered will be delivered at a certain time, or that their child’s school opening is delayed. Such calls are not covered by the TSR, as long as they do not attempt to interest consumers in the sale of any goods or services. For the same reason, the rule amendments also do not apply to calls concerning collection of debts where the calls do not seek to promote the sale of any goods or services.

In addition, calls not covered by the TSR — including those from politicians, banks, telephone carriers, and most charitable organizations — are not covered by the new prohibition. The new prohibition on prerecorded messages does not apply to certain healthcare messages. The new rule prohibits telemarketing robocalls to consumers whether or not they previously have done business with the seller.

Under a previous rule that took effect on Dec. 1, 2008, telemarketing robocall messages by businesses covered by the TSR must tell consumers how to opt-out of further calls at the start of the message, and provide an automated opt-out mechanism that is voice or keypress-activated. Prerecorded messages left on answering machines must also provide a toll-free number that connects to the automated opt-out mechanism.

The Commission’s 2008 press release announcing the changes to the TSR’s prerecorded telemarketing provisions and a link to the related Federal Register notice can be found on the FTC’s Web site at: http://www2.ftc.gov/opa/2008/08/tsr.shtm.

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