The Telemarketing Sales Rule
The Telemarketing Sales Rule, in effect since December 31, 1995, was revised in January 2003. It enforces a law Congress passed to fight fraudulent activities carried out by telephone and to give consumers added privacy protections. Companies that violate the Rule are subject to fines of up to $11,000 per violation. The Federal Trade Commission defines telemarketing as any plan, program or campaign to induce the purchase of goods, services, or a charitable contribution over the telephone. The FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule prohibits misrepresentations and requires telemarketers to give you certain disclosures. It also gives you the power to stop unwanted telemarketing calls. (There is some overlap with this Rule and the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) rules, described later.)
One of the major changes in the amended rule was the establishment (with the FCC) of a Do Not Call Registry to reduce telemarketing calls consumers receive at home. It is illegal for a telemarketer to call you if you have registered for the national list.
The Rule requires specific disclosures.
For outbound calls, the following prompt (before any sales pitch is given) clear and conspicuous oral disclosures:
- The seller's identity;
- That the purpose of the call is to sell;
- The nature of the goods or services offered;
- That no payment or purchase is necessary to win if a prize promotion is offered.
For all transactions, whether they involve inbound or outbound calls, the following clear and conspicuous written or oral disclosures:
- The cost and quantity of the goods or services offered;
- Any material restrictions, limitations, or conditions;
- Any "no-refund" policy; if a refund policy is mentioned, the material terms and conditions of the refund policy must be disclosed;
- Prize promotion disclosures: the odds of winning, or if the odds can't be calculated, the factors that determine the odds; that no purchase/no payment is necessary to win; a statement of no purchase/no payment method of entry; and any material restrictions or limitations on any offered prize.
A telemarketer cannot:
- Call again once you've asked them not to or if your phone number is on the National Do Not Call Registry;
- Call you before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.;
- Withdraw money from your checking account without your express, verifiable authorization;
- Misrepresent the offer or the goods or services offered or make any false statement to get you to pay, no matter what method of payment you use;
- Seek payment for credit repair, recovery room or advance fee loan/credit services until these services have been delivered.
Exceptions to the Rule
The Rule does not cover the following situations:
- Calls placed by consumers in response to general media advertising if the advertising does not relate to: investment opportunities; credit repair services; recovery services; or loans or other extensions of credit, the granting of which is represented to be guaranteed or highly likely;
- Calls placed by consumers in response to direct mail advertising if the advertising discloses all the material information required by the Rule;
- Catalog sales;
- Calls initiated by the consumer that are not made in response to any solicitation;
- Calls involving sales that are not completed, and payment (or authorization of payment) is not required, until after a face-to-face sales presentation;
- Business-to-business calls (unless nondurable office or cleaning supplies are being offered);
- Sales of pay-per-call services and sales of franchises.
The Amended Telemarketing Sales Rule also includes provisions related to predictive auto dialers and advance consent marketing.
For further information, see www.ftc.gov
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