If you qualify for an extension to the June 30 STIR/SHAKEN deadline in the TRACED Act, you are required to implement Robocall Mitigation in your network (see this video discussion). Robocall Mitigation is all about making sure that you are not the SOURCE of illegal robocalls. But what if you are?
What exactly is an illegal robocall?
For each of the following scenarios, take a guess. Is this legal or illegal?
- An auto-dialer that’s claiming to be the IRS and fraudulently collecting overdue taxes?
- A political group sending automated announcements encouraging people to call their representative?
- A business using an auto-dialer to sell lawn care services?
- A school district sending automated announcements to all the families in the district about upcoming events?
- A business with a call center where a large team of people call consumers about vacation deals?
As a consumer, I don’t particularly want to receive any of these calls (our school district now communicates with me by email, thank goodness) – but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re illegal.
As a service provider, you may well have paying subscribers who place large numbers of calls and you have a legal requirement to mitigate illegal robocalls in your network. So how do you handle this? How can you help your subscribers to operate legally, so you can meet your obligations.
Important note: I am not a lawyer. In this article I’ll focus on what makes robocalls illegal (with references), but this does not count as legal advice, and we won’t be able to cover every scenario. My goal is to give you an overview of the topic so you can talk intelligently about the issue.
Factors impacting illegal robocalls
The rules surrounding high-volume calls depend on a variety of factors, including:
- whether the called number is wireline or wireless
- whether the number was generated by an auto-dialer (computer)
- whether the audio is a pre-recorded announcement or a real human
- whether the content of the call is telemarketing (sales).
Legal or Illegal – a Flow Chart
This doesn’t capture every detail of the rules, but I put together the flow-chart below to help you (and your business / non-profit customers) understand the general principles for what makes something a legal or illegal call. Start at the top-left.
This chart is based on the following reference materials, which contain some additional details that aren’t captured in the diagram.
What about the examples at the top? Are they legal?
Okay, okay. In case you need it, here are the answers to our earlier scenarios:
- An auto-dialer that’s claiming to be the IRS and fraudulently collecting overdue taxes? ILLEGAL
- A political group sending automated announcements encouraging people to call their representative? LEGAL to wireline only
- A business using an auto-dialer to sell lawn care services? LEGAL to wireline provided no pre-recorded announcements are used.
- A school district sending automated announcements to all the families in the district about upcoming events? LEGAL to wireline only, unless the families have given consent (which the school district should probably have asked for on a registration form somewhere) in which case LEGAL to all lines.
- A business with a call center where a large team of people call consumers about vacation deals? As long as no auto-dialers are used (and as long as they respect the Do Not Call List) this should be LEGAL.
Could legal calls be marked as spam?
As STIR/SHAKEN is rolled-out across the country, and as more robocall blocking and robocall mitigation tools are inserted into the network, many organizations that make high volumes of legal calls are concerned that their calls could incorrectly be marked as spam by these systems.
This is a legitimate concern, and if any of your subscribers are worried, I’d suggest they check out the following links.
- The above FCC document, which has a section focused on businesses (page 7)
- This FTC document about complying with the telemarketing sales rules
- Free Caller Registry which offers a tool to submit your number to multiple databases as a legitimate caller
What do I do now?
Ultimately it’s your customer’s responsibility to make sure that they’re complying with all the rules. But it may well be your responsibility to implement a robocall mitigation program – so you’re not off the hook.
If you have customers who are placing large volumes of outbound calls then I’d recommend using a software solution to monitor for suspicious outgoing calls as part of your robocall mitigation program. And you should work with your regulatory consultant / lawyer (i.e. not me!) to figure out what other processes you need to have in place.
If you have mostly residential lines, you can breathe easier, but you still need to put together a formal plan with written processes that you follow that can reasonably be expected to reduce illegal robocalls in your network.