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Readers question whether telemarketers who violate ?Do Not Call? lists are punished | Katie Fairbank Columns – Problem Solver – News for Dallas, Texas – The Dallas Morning News

September 26, 2011

Readers question whether telemarketers who violate “Do Not Call” lists are punished

Katie Fairbank
Problem Solver
problemsolver@dallasnews.com
Published: 24 September 2011 11:10 PM

THE PROBLEM: Dozens of readers contacted Problem Solver to say they had signed up for the state and national “Do Not Call” lists in hopes of avoiding telemarketing calls. But their phones keep ringing anyway. “Are telemarketers who violate the list punished in any way?” asked one reader. “I don’t see any consequences, so I’d appreciate a follow-up article on this problem.”

The penalty for ignoring the state “No Call” list is $25,000 per day, per violation. Breaking the rules that include the national “Do Not Call” list can result in civil penalties of up to $16,000 per violation.

Those are hefty fines. But while complaints about telemarketers are plentiful, enforcement actions are not.

Michael Lanham of Dallas found that out after a credit card marketing firm in Idaho kept calling his cellphone, even though he is registered on both the state and national lists.

Lanham first sacrificed some of his cell plan minutes to try to stop the calls. He went through the all-too-familiar routine of pressing “1” and waiting on hold for a human to come on the line.

“I explained that I was on all the ‘No Call’ lists, and I wanted them to honor that and take me off. His immediate response was to hang up on me,” said Lanham, who then logged onto the national “Do Not Call” list website to file a complaint. He was dismayed to realize it wouldn’t make much difference.

“The website clearly says that they really cannot enforce anything and that they cannot do anything but register the complaint,” he said. “I am sure that legitimate companies will try to abide by the rules, but the ‘No Call’ list is really a bit of a paper tiger. If someone chooses to violate the list, the consequences are minor, if any at all.”

In Texas, that’s mostly true. Consumers filed 6,185 complaints about calls to numbers registered on the “No Call” list between Sept. 1, 2008, and Aug. 31, 2010, according to a report from the Public Utility Commission.

Those 6,185 complaints initiated 13 investigations by the PUC, which oversees the lists. “Of these 13, five were referred to other agencies, six resulted in warning letters and two were found to be in full compliance,” the PUC reported to the Texas Legislature in December.

“The commission believes its approach to telemarketing (including No-Call List) investigations and enforcement strikes the appropriate balance between the use of the resources available to prosecute these types of violations and the seriousness of the violations,” the PUC’s report states.

The Texas attorney general’s office reported 154 complaints during the same two-year period. In response, the office opened 18 investigations, filed five lawsuits and reached an agreement with three companies believed to have violated the “Do Not Call” lists.

One of the lawsuits, filed in U.S. District Court in Dallas, was against Pleasant Valley Air Conditioning, an air conditioning and heating repair company that had generated over 1,000 telemarketing complaints with the Federal Trade Commission. Pleasant Valley agreed to a judgment of $100,000 and promised to stop making the calls.

Nationally, the FTC and the Federal Communications Commission jointly manage the “Do Not Call” list and caution consumers about “limitations” in jurisdiction. The agencies point out that calls from charities, surveyors or companies with which a consumer already has an existing business relationship are all allowed.

Also allowed are calls from political organizations seeking money and support. Politicians decided to leave those calls off the telemarketing list.

AT A GLANCE: REPORTING CALLS

Consumers may file complaints for violations of the Texas No-Call List with the Customer Protection Division of the Public Utility Commission.

Consumers may file complaints by phone at 1-888-782-8477; by mail at P.O. Box 13326, Austin, Texas 78711; or through a complaint form online at http://www.puc.state.tx.us/consumer/complaint/NoCallForm.aspx.

Consumers also can file complaints with the Office of the Attorney General of the State of Texas at http://ping.fm/rM7iC

SOURCES: Texas Public Utility Commission, Texas attorney general

From: http://ping.fm/6LqTC

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