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On January 5, the FTC issued its National Do Not Call (DNC) Registry biennial report to Congress. According to the report, more than 244 million consumers have now placed their telephone numbers on the DNC Registry over the past two years. The report also highlighted that in FY 2021, the Commission received more than five million DNC complaints, the majority of which reported robocalls violations as opposed to live telemarketing. The FTC reported that the increased number of illegal telemarketing calls correlates with advancements in technology that make it easier for telemarketers to “spoof” the caller ID information accompanying a call. “[M]any telemarketers use automated dialing technology to make calls that deliver prerecorded messages (commonly referred to as ‘robocalls’), which allow violators to make very high volumes of illegal calls without significant expense,” the FTC said. Imposters posing as government representatives or legitimate business entities topped the complaint list, followed by calls related to warranties and protection plans, debt-reduction offers, and medical and prescription issues. Last month, in response to the consistently high level of impersonator scam complaints, the FTC issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking seeking comments on a wide-range of questions related to government and business impersonation fraud (covered by InfoBytes here). The FTC noted that these scammers are looking for information that can be used to commit identity theft or seek monetary payment and often request that funds be paid through wire transfer, gift cards, or cryptocurrency. Additionally, the FTC stated that since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has received more than 18,000 Covid-related DNC complaints.
On November 23, the FTC released the National Do Not Call Registry Data Book for Fiscal Year 2021. The Data Book provides the most recent fiscal year information available on telemarketing sales calls and robocall complaints, including the types of calls reported to the FTC and a state-by-state analysis. In FY 2021, the Commission received 3.4 million robocall complaints—an increase from the 2.8 million robocall complaints received in FY 2020 but consistent with the higher number of complaints received in prior years. Imposters posing as government representatives or legitimate business entities topped the complaint list, followed by warranties and protection plans and supposed debt-reduction offers. Other common complaints included calls related to medical and prescription issues as well as computers and technical support. The Data Book contains aggregate data about phone numbers on the Do Not Call Registry, telemarketers and sellers that access the registry, as well as DNC complaints by topic and type.
On June 25, the FTC announced a major crackdown on illegal robocalls named “Operation Call it Quits,” which includes 94 enforcement actions from around the country brought by the FTC and 25 other federal, state, and local agencies. In addition to actions targeting the actors, the operation also includes a consumer education initiative and promotion of the development of technology-based solutions to block robocalls and fight caller ID spoofing. In addition to the 87 other enforcement actions brought under the initiatives, the FTC announced four new actions, some of which were filed by the DOJ on the FTC’s behalf, and three new settlements targeting robocallers for violations of the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), among other things. The FTC alleges many of the actors used illegal robocalls to contact financially distressed consumers regarding interest rate reductions, sell fraudulent money-making opportunities, pitch free medical alert systems, or develop leads for solar energy companies. The affected consumers in these actions were often listed on the Do Not Call Registry. The FTC provided a complete list of the 94 actions brought under Operation Call it Quits.
State Attorneys General participating in the initiative are: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia. Additionally, local agencies include: the Consumer Protection Divisions of the District Attorneys for the Counties of Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside, and Santa Clara, California; the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services; and the Los Angeles City Attorney.
On April 16, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted in part and denied in part a telemarketing company’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the plaintiff did not have standing to bring some of his claims under the TCPA. According to the opinion, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the company for various claims under the TCPA, alleging that he received ten calls from the company to a phone number he had listed on the “National Do Not Call Registry” (Registry), nine of which were allegedly placed using an automatic dialing system (autodialer). The plaintiff requested orally, and later in writing, that the company cease calling the number, but the company allegedly continued to do so. The company moved to dismiss the action, arguing that the plaintiff created a business model to “encourage telemarketers to call his cellphone number so that he can later sue the telemarketers under the TCPA,” and therefore, has not suffered an injury-in-fact that the TCPA was designed to protect. The court agreed with the company on two claims related to the Registry, holding that the plaintiff does not have standing to bring claims under the TCPA’s prohibition of contacting numbers on the Registry because the phone was for business use and “business numbers are not permitted to be registered on the [Registry].” The court denied the motion to dismiss as to the remaining TCPA claims and ordered the company to respond.