of robocalls already are working on the last nerve of
consumers each month.
no one wants to hear a warning from consumer watchdogs
that yet another "tsunami of unwanted and
unstoppable" robocalls and texts to cellphones
could be on the horizon.
complex debates involving the Telephone Consumer
Protection Act of 1991 are ongoing, and robocalls are a
groups argue that a change in the rules could make it
too easy for banks, student loan servicers and others to
send even more unwanted texts and robocalls to our
cellphones. Right now, businesses face tougher limits
for calling our cell phones than our landlines and many
limits could go away if the Federal Communications
Commission issues new rules.
watchdogs favor maintaining strong consumer protection
laws that discourage robocalling and allow consumers to
easily withdraw their consent for being called.
groups have a financial incentive to see change. After
all, they say the rules reflect a time when everyone was
tied to their landlines, not their cellphones. Many
student loan borrowers and millennials taking out a
mortgage only have a cellphone, not a landline.
leaders want clear regulations for what’s allowed to
reduce all the confusion with the existing rules.
Class-action lawsuits, as a result, might be harder to
win if the rules are changed. Quicken Loans, for
example, maintains the current rules leave businesses in
the precarious position of having some clients who would
like to receive a call but the companies cannot call
without violating the law.
have encouraged the commission to pursue smart, modern
policies that aggressively target scammers and illegal
telemarketers while allowing banks and other businesses
to protect their customers through timely communications
that alert them to suspicious activity or provide
account updates that may help them avoid fees,"
said Virginia O’Neill, senior vice president of
American Bankers Association’s Center for Regulatory
than 50 percent of U.S. households are now
"wireless-only" – and that percentage rises
to more than 70 percent for adults between 25 and 34
years old, bankers say.
unless the caller has given prior consent, telephone
calls and text messages to cellphones using an automatic
dialing system, commonly known as an "autodialer,"
aren’t allowed now in most cases.
Credit Union National Association wants the act updated
to treat informational calls to wireless phones the same
as calls to landlines.
rules and regulations don’t match current technology
or consumer preferences," said Monique Michel,
senior director of advocacy and counsel for the Credit
Union National Association, based in Madison, Wisconsin.
of consumers, of course, can sign up for alerts to their
cellphones already to avoid overdraft fees or be
contacted about suspicious activity. But, again, they
must agree upfront to such calls or texts.
maintain that they want to be able to send critical
notices to cellphones for large groups of customers,
including delinquent borrowers.
is well-established that the earlier the creditor is
able to communicate with a financially distressed
borrower, the more likely the creditor will be able to
offer the borrower a loan modification, interest-rate
reduction, forbearance on interest and fees during a
temporary hardship or disaster, or other alternative
that will help limit avoidable late fees, interest
charges, negative credit reports, and, where
appropriate, repossession of the collateral or
foreclosure," according to the comment letter
submitted June 28 by the American Bankers Association to
an emergency situation, such as the hurricanes last year
in Texas. One credit union wanted to offer low-cost,
short-term loans to members but people who had landlines
weren’t in their homes. And the credit union couldn’t
call those with cellphones if the customer had not
agreed to be contacted by cellphone, Michel said.
most days, who really wants more calls to their
idea of putting a narrow spin on the rules has consumer
groups in an uproar. They’re encouraging consumers to
file a public comment at the FCC site at www.fcc.gov
under Docket 02-278.
industry smells blood. They really believe, and they may
be right, that they can convince this FCC to define
autodialer in such a way that it will not cover any
systems out there, which would make tens of millions of
robocalls ungoverned and unstoppable," said Margot
Saunders, senior counsel at the National Consumer Law
act exists, she said, to protect privacy rights by
limiting unwanted and invasive robocalls. But she’s
concerned the FCC’s move last December to repeal
federal net neutrality regulations shows an anticonsumer
bent, as many anticipate that consumers will end up
paying more for internet services.
Saunders said she remains hopeful FCC Chairman Ajit Pai
will do as he has promised and actually provide a means
for consumers to control unwanted automated calls. Part
of the debate involves three issues:
allowed when it comes to cellphones?
say there is a lack of clarity on what is an "autodialer"
– or an automatic telephone dialing system.
American Bankers Association has urged the Federal
Communications Commission to provide a new
interpretation of an "automatic telephone dialing
system." The banking trade group wants to use
automatic equipment that dials cellphones from a stored
list of customer numbers to send timely alerts when
necessary. It favors, as does Quicken, limiting
restrictions to the act of randomly generating phone
numbers to call and then calling the number generated.
consumer groups warn that if the FCC calls for a more
limited definition in the future, it would free lenders
and others to make more calls and texts to cellphones
without worry of being threatened by litigation.
Consumer groups want all equipment being used to send
autodialed calls be classified as an "autodialer."
can consumers do to regain control?
groups maintain that the definition for opting out now
is way too broad – where it could mean almost anything
from phoning the company to revoke consent to going into
a branch to sending something in the mail. Quicken said
it is suggesting the FCC define "any reasonable
means" for opting out of calls to center on a
company establishing and following procedures for
revoking consent or not using intentionally deceptive
watchdogs are fearful that the FCC could decide that if
consent to receive robocalls is part of the fine print
of a contract, the consumer would never be able to
revoke such consent.
happens when the business has the wrong number?
sides agree that problems crop up when phone numbers
change and one consumer starts receiving calls meant for
someone else. It can be hard to stop those unwanted
calls now, and watchdogs fear it could get even tougher
if the rules change.
maintain they don’t know if they’re actually calling
the person they intend to call until the person picks up
the phone. Many times, individuals do not give a
greeting on their cellphones.
said the definition should include the "intended
recipient of a call" so that a business
"reaching out to provide consumer-wanted services
are inside the law."
groups note that if the rules change, robocallers could
call wrong numbers with impunity, as long as someone who
once had that phone number consented to receive
some of the arguments being made by business leaders
seem reasonable, consumers, of course, are already sick
of all the robocalls being sent to their cellphones
today. So it’s hard to imagine consumers wanting to
receive any more calls as it is.
Mahoney, policy analyst for Consumers Union, said
consumers need the strongest protections possible to
avoid unwanted calls and texts.
robocalls are a significant problem, but they’re not
the only problem relating to unwanted robocalls,"
be sure, consumers are making some, limited headway
against unwanted robocalls.
Federal Communications Commission voted last year to
allow telephone carriers to block robocalls that appear
to be scams. Calls that phone carriers can block include
numbers that are not in use, or are clearly invalid,
such as a call from a nonexistent area code.
such a change is welcome, it might only block 10 percent
or less of robocalls, experts say.
consumers want, they can explore other available tools
to stop unwanted calls, too. AT&T has a "Call
Protect" service for smartphones that offers
automatic blocking of fraudulent calls and suspected
spam warnings. T-Mobile has free services called ScamID
app Nomorobo charges $1.99 a month per device to block
some calls. It allows calls you’d want, such as those
about prescriptions or a school closing, to come
through. Nomorobo also offers a free service for VoIP
of course, there is the national Do Not Call Registry to
address telemarketing calls where you can register your
home phone or mobile phone for free. See
watch out for scammers there, too. The Federal Trade
Commission is warning that fake emails are being sent by
scammers impersonating the FTC and telling people that
their Do Not Call registration is expiring.
never expire. Once you add a number to the Do Not Call
Registry, you do not need to register it again,"
the FTC warns.