The Telephone Consumer Protection Act allows citizens to take legal action against debt collection and telemarketing agencies that harass the public. To accommodate recent changes in technology, the Federal Communications Commission updated the law in October 2013.
How the TCPA works
If a business violates this law when contacting you by phone, text message or fax, a court may award you up to $1,500 per call. Individual and class action lawsuits are permitted. The TCPA can protect you from a variety of unsolicited communications, including:
- Mobile phone calls initiated with an autodialer
- Automated text messages transmitted to cellphones
- Faxes sent to a private fax number without consent
- Recorded or “robotic” landline telephone calls
- Fraudulent names and numbers on caller ID
The latest update to this law requires companies to gain permission for most automated messages and calls. Written or electronic signatures are acceptable. The TCPA no longer allows firms to autodial your phone when you buy products or services from them.
Successful court cases
This law is not merely a “paper tiger.” Companies large and small have had to face the consequences of violating the TCPA. One major class action settlement was achieved in September 2013. Reuters reported that Bank of America paid $32 million to customers it had harassed.
The bank was accused of making unsolicited calls to over 7 million cellphone numbers. It repeatedly used autodialers to send customers recorded messages about unpaid debts. The settlement also required BoA to cease making automated cellphone calls without consent.
In 2012, student loan company Sallie Mae was hit with a huge class action lawsuit for TCPA violations. It had to pay a settlement of $24 million. The lender is known for calling borrowers throughout the week and delivering vague prerecorded messages with no specific details.
Debt collection harassment
Compared to the practices of some collection agencies, Sallie Mae and Bank of America tactics seem annoying but tame. Debt collectors have threatened borrowers with arrest, the loss of their jobs and even physical violence. Other harassment examples include:
- Insisting on calling people at work
- Telling supervisors about employee debts
- Visiting borrowers’ homes late at night
- Calling people who don’t owe money
A few debt collectors take it even further. The Washington Post reported that an agency in California threatened to shoot borrowers’ pets and dig up the graves of their relatives. Other firms claim that they will seize debtors homes or deport them, according to Bankrate.
How to take action
You can help bring an end to phone harassment by documenting violations of the TCPA and related laws. Be sure to take notes about every call or message you receive. Keep telephone records, and write down the date, time, contact method and other details of each communication.
Some businesses refuse to take the law seriously until they face major financial consequences. With the help of an experienced attorney, it’s possible to punish abusive collection agencies, stop unwanted phone calls and gain compensation.
The Law Office of Stephen B. Kass specializes in debt-related legal matters. We have provided clients with bankruptcy and tax debt services for over 15 years. To discuss your rights under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, please contact us by calling (516) 228-3553 today.