Five Ways to Avoid a Lawsuit in Wake of Latest Telemarketing Rules

Violations Can Cost Offenders $500-1,500 Per Incident

By Published on .

Do you know what type of phone numbers are on your outbound marketing call lists?

Chances are your telemarketing calls, prerecorded or live, are being made to consumer phone numbers provided by third-party sources. And, if you've been paying attention, landlines are a dying breed. A study performed last year indicated that fully half of Americans live in a home where only, or mostly, mobile phones are used. As such, most people list their mobile phone as a primary contact, which winds up on your outbound marketing lists.

While marketers have benefitted from direct access to potential new customers with mobile-phone numbers, some consumers don't like it. On Oct. 16, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, more commonly known as the TCPA, began enforcing new regulation to prevent automated sales and marketing calls to mobile phones.

Under the rules, TCPA violations can now cost the offender $500-$1,500 per incident. And those numbers can add up quickly. For example, in some recent high-profiles cases, powerhouses like Google, Jiffy Lube and Papa John's have already had to deal with multimillion dollar settlements. Agencies and vendors, large and small, need to be on high alert in how they use automated dialers to contact consumers.
Here are five important TCPA tips to keep out of the legal doghouse:

Know the law
The best way to ensure that you won't become a lawsuit target is to stay informed of TCPA rules and regulations. The Federal Communications Commission's website is a trusted resource. As an organization, decide on a consistent set of guidelines to follow, and make sure everyone, especially employees in call centers, is educated on the applicable rules. It's also a good idea to seek legal consultation that specializes in telecommunications regulations and FCC laws to ensure compliance.

Get written consent
Under the regulation, consumer mobile numbers may no longer receive telephone calls that present an advertisement, or constitute telemarketing, use an automated dialer or an artificial or prerecorded voice (robocall) without a "prior express written consent." The key word is "written." Before the changes, the standard was just "prior express consent." Basically, all that opt-in data floating around won't be acceptable anymore as evidence of consumer consent.

An electronic or digital form of signature is acceptable. Consent obtained in compliance with the E-sign Act falls under the new rules, including permission obtained via email, website form, text message, telephone-key press or voice recording.

Scrub lists
Going forward, it's best to scrub lists every 15 days to ensure protection by the FCC's 2004 amendment, which gives safe harbor to accidental phone calls to numbers recently ported from landline to mobile. If an organization unintentionally calls a mobile number without consent, it is safeguarded against prosecution if there is proof that the call list had been scrubbed within the previous 15 days.

Invest in third-party data
Hire a third-party service provider that can verify consumer phone numbers, as well as differentiate between cellphones and landlines. This type of verification service to provide more in-depth information on numbers can help you avoid possible errors or missed opportunities.

When it comes to phone numbers with written consent, it's even more important to verify that a person still has the same number. Written consent is only valid with the same name and number pairing at the time of consent. If a person, who had previously given written consent, changes his or her number, the consent is void.

Don't take the risks
When in doubt, it's best to verify all call lists with any wireless numbers that do not have written consent. It's important for marketers to scrub against a list of cellphone numbers that have already been blocked, as well as a list of landlines that have recently been ported to wireless. It's also best practice to treat non-fixed VoIP numbers like wireless numbers, just to be on the safe side. After all, some VoIP services, such as Google Voice and Skype, may forward calls on to a cellphone.

Unfortunately, unintentional mistakes that break regulation and put companies at risk for litigation are common. So it's important to beware of savvy consumers seeking clever ways to catch those accidental mistakes, as well as aggressive TCPA class- action lawyers actively preying on consumers who might be eligible for a lawsuit.

It's clear that mobile is changing the way we will move forward with outbound marketing campaigns, but it's really only a matter of adding a few new checkboxes when starting each campaign.
As long as your organization does its due diligence, avoids risky overly activity and takes careful precautions, evading potential costly lawsuits should be no problem.

Alex Algard is founder and CEO of WhitePages and WhitePages PRO.
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