No one likes a robocall. Yet, we all get them, and the increased frequency of robocalls is astounding. I now don’t pick up any calls on either my residential line or my cell phone unless it is a known number. It can be quite frustrating for consumers and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is hearing the frustration loud and clear.
In response to the huge number of complaints it receives every year about robocalls, the FTC has upped its game on monitoring and enforcing illegal robocalling. On August 27, 2019, the FTC, in a unanimous vote, announced that it has entered into a settlement with a for-profit operator of several post-secondary schools for $30 million for “falsely representing that its schools were affiliated with or recommended by the military.” According to the FTC press release, the entity contracted with third party sales lead generators to contact consumers and tell them that they were affiliated with the military and were offering job or benefits assistance. The company’s “lead generators posed online as official U.S. military recruiters or as job-finding services, then called consumers whose contact information was solicited under those false pretenses.” The “lead generators then continued to misrepresent that the military, or an independent education advisor,” recommended the company’s school.
The FTC found that the lead generators “tricked” consumers into providing their contact information, and that they contacted and “harassed” people registered on the Do Not Call Registry.
There are a couple of important lessons from the facts and settlement of this case. First, marketing departments continue to suggest that robocalling be used for marketing campaigns. Robocalling can be conducted in a legally compliant way, but that is the point—if robocalling is part of the marketing strategy, understand that there are specific regulations that have to be followed before launching a robocalling campaign. Second, outsourcing robocalling campaigns will not get you off the compliance hook. According to the FTC, companies are responsible for robocalling campaigns and cannot “skirt the law by outsourcing illegal conduct to your service providers. This case demonstrates that the FTC will seek to hold advertisers liable for the deceptive or illegal practices of their affiliates, publishers, or other lead generators. We expect companies purchasing leads to implement strong vendor management programs and stay on the right side of the law.”
The FTC is putting time and resources into illegal robocalling. This settlement provides guidance to marketing departments to consider when setting up a legally compliant robocalling marketing campaign.