Companies collecting debts “make an enormous number” of robocalls and many of those callers are “repeatedly and flagrantly” violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, “paying off consumers” when they are sued and “then continuing their patterns of calling,” claimed Margot Saunders, the senior counsel of the National Consumer Law Center, in her testimony yesterday during a hearing on robocalls before the Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee On Communications, Technology Innovation And The Internet.
Saunders threw shade at a lot of companies and industries during her testimony yesterday, including companies in the credit and collection industry, while also saying that the TCPA is “straightforward and clear,” and the ruling in ACA International v. FCC is the reason that more robocalls are being made. As well, consent that is provided in a contract between an individual and a creditor “hardly constitutes express consent to be contacted months or years later by a debt collector,” Saunders said.
Joining Saunders on the panel was Doug Peterson, the attorney general of Nebraska, and Kevin Rupy, a partner at the law firm of Wiley Rein, who was representing the telecom and broadband industries.
Finally, Saunders pointed her spotlight at the hardworking Americans, who, after receiving “hundreds or even thousands, of illegal calls interfere with work, interrupt family time, or infringe upon the consumer’s solitude,” are left with no choice but to sue and then are “sworn to secrecy” through confidentiality clauses in settlements. For any collection agency that has been sued by an individual for violating the TCPA, how many of those plaintiffs were individuals who were at their wits’ end because of the barrage of calls they received? And how many were filed by individuals who were being opportunistic? For every story that a consumer advocate can find about someone who received an ungodly amount of calls without permission, there is a story about someone who buys prepaid cell phones by the dozen and just waits for the calls to start rolling in so he or she can file a lawsuit.
Saunders outlined five steps to “rein in robocalls” during her testimony:
- We need to be able to identify who the caller is when calls come in to our phones.
- The TCPA’s broad scope must be upheld so that it applies to the unwanted automated calls Americans receive.
- The rules must give us the ability to limit and control the calls to our phones.
- Sellers must not be allowed to hide behind the third parties they hire.
- The rules must be enforceable in a way that provides a) individuals harmed with the ability to obtain redress for their harms, and b) incentives to the callers to comply with the law.