Understand the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)

Slammed by robocalls? Here’s what you should know about your rights under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)

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Editor’s Note: FairShake is not an attorney, law firm, or financial advisor. Our content team conducts research to the best of our ability to ensure this content is accurate, but it does not replace professional financial or legal advice.

In this article

  • What is the Telephone Consumer Protection Act?
  • When does the TCPA apply?
  • Are there exceptions to the TCPA?
  • What penalties exist under the TCPA?
  • How to take action under the TCPA if you’re receiving robocalls…

What is the Telephone Consumer Protection Act?

The Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is federal law aimed at providing protections for consumers from automated calls, texts and faxes sent by telemarketers and others, commonly know as robocalls.

The TCPA was enacted in 1991. It has been updated several times as technology has changed. The law is implemented by regulations from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The TCPA sets guidelines for telemarketing practices, places greater restrictions on the use of automated telephone equipment, and requires that entities making telephone solicitations maintain a do-not-call list.

This is in addition to the National Do Not Call Registry, maintained by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). That registry prohibits all applicable telemarketers from calling you, and you can join it here.

Unfortunately, the US has a large problem with spam calls coming from overseas, often pushing scams and not honoring the Do Not Call registry or other TCPA rules. The TCPA prohibits these calls, and the government sometimes takes action against them, but for callers whose identify can’t be determined it’s hard to enforce the law. The Federal Trade Commissions advice for these calls: “Just block ’em and report ’em.

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When does the TCPA apply?

Telemarketers and solicitors who have not obtained prior consent from call or message recipients are limited under the TCPA provisions.

According to the TCPA, a “telemarketing” call is any call that offers or promotes a product or service. Calls that are strictly “informational” and calls for non-commercial purposes are allowed, however. The TCPA also treats a text message as a “call” for legal purposes.

Even if you previously gave consent to receive calls, know that consent for a call can always be revoked. Telemarketers are required to keep a list of individuals who tell them not to call and they must honor that list. This applies to unwanted text messages as well.

(When revoking consent, try to choose a method that allows you to document the revocation, such as text, email or recorded call.)

The TCPA has additional rules for “robocalls:”

  • Telemarketing or advertising calls made using an ATDS — “automatic telephone dialing system” — or prerecorded voice message to cell phones, or by prerecorded voice message to residential lines, require prior express written consent from the call recipient to use those tactics.
  • Even non-telemarketing calls/texts to cell phones made using an ATDS or prerecorded voice require prior express consent.

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What does the TCPA prohibit?

Under the TCPA, telemarketers are limited from doing the following for commercial purposes without your consent:

  • Calling home phone lines using a recording or artificial voice.
  • Call home phone lines outside of the hours of 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. in your local timezone.
  • Making any automated calls or those using an artificial or prerecorded voice to cell phones or any other recipient who will be charged for the call.
  • Making automated calls to emergency phone lines and doctors’ offices.
  • Auto-dialing two or more lines of the same business
  • Sending unsolicited faxes featuring advertising.

Under the TCPA, if you ask a telemarketer must give their name, who they are calling on behalf of, and a phone number or address for that person or entity.

Additionally, the TCPA requires telemarketers to honor the National Do Not Call Registry (join it here). And each telemarketing company must maintain a company specific do-not-call list and to honor that list for five years. Robocalls must include an automated, interactive opt-out mechanism during each call.

Are there exceptions to the TCPA?

The TCPA does not apply to purely informational calls and calls for non-commercial purposes — like calls from political campaigns or non-profits. (The Act’s provisions do apply to companies hired by non-profits to make calls. Those companies must comply with company-specific do-not-call lists by avoiding calling anyone who has previously opted out of their calls.)

A few other exceptions to the TCPA:

  • Calls or texts from your mobile provider about your service are not covered by the TCPA.
  • Calls related to healthcare are exempt from certain TCPA rules. For instance, robocalls must still have consent, but consent can be verbally provided or implied by the providing of a number instead of requiring written consent.

What penalties exist under the TCPA?

The TCPA empowers victims of illegal calls to collect damages of a minimum of $500 per illegal contact (meaning a call, text or fax).

If the violations are willful, then the penalty can be as high as $1,500 per call or text.

This means, if you’re receiving spam calls or robocalls from a company without your permission it can be well worth pursuing your rights under the TCPA.

How to take action under the TCPA if you’re receiving robocalls…

If you want to inform the government about your experience receiving robocalls or other unwanted telemarketing, you can these to the National Do Not Call Registry here.

If you want to take actions into your own hands, tell us below how to handle your complaint…

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