Why robocallers can stalk you on your cell phone

WASHINGTON – “Do not call” doesn’t work so well anymore. Telemarketers and scammers are finding ways around the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which sought to protect consumers from unwanted robocalls. At the same time, the act is blocking beneficial robocalls, such as those from health care providers.  

“TCPA is showing its age,” said Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican and chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, at a recent hearing called to consider updating the 1991 act.

The TCPA did, indeed, sharply reduce some types of abusive and disruptive telemarketing practices. Companies are now required to abide by “do-not-call” lists and to make solicitation calls only between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.

The new problems center around cell phones. Under the law, automated calls or texts to a cell phone generally require the consumer’s consent. A violation can bring statutory damages of $500 per call, but only if a consumer files a lawsuit. Damages can be tripled if the activity was intentional.

But only one lawsuit is filed for every 1,000 complaints lodged with the Federal Trade Commission, and those are costly and hard to prove, said Margot Saunders of the National Consumer Law Center. “If robocalls were a disease, they would be an epidemic,” Saunders added in her remarks for the hearing. “The current structure of the TCPA does provide some protection, but it does not provide enough.”