The Federal Trade Commission said Thursday that beginning next month, such calls will no longer be lawful unless the telemarketer has received written permission from consumers who express interest in receiving such offers by phone. The provision is known as the Telemarketing Sales Rule, or TSR. Current rules block such calls only if the consumer adds a home or cell phone number to the federal Do Not Call registry.
"Starting Sept. 1, this bombardment of prerecorded pitches, senseless solicitations, and malicious marketing will be illegal," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement. "If consumers think they're being harassed by robocallers, they need to let us know, and we will go after them."
Unauthorized calls can be reported to the commission online or at (877) 382-4357 (877-FTC-HELP).
Telemarketers who violate the new rule are subject to fines of up to $16,000 a call. The ban prohibits automated calls regardless of whether the consumer has done business with the seller. Calls placed by humans aren't banned, unless the phone number is on the national do not call registry.
Those involved in marketing directly to consumers say consumers won't notice much of a difference. That's because the ban has been in the works for some time and telemarketers have planned for it.
While the ban prohibits many calls, don't expect the phone to stop ringing altogether. The new rules don't, for example, prohibit calls that provide information, such as flight information or appliance delivery times -- or even debt collectors, so long as the calls do not promote the sale of goods or services.
Also exempt are calls from local charities, politicians, banks and -- Holy Jerry Seinfeld! -- those from telephone companies.
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