Ghosts, goblins and…..the TCPA?
I’ll admit the TCPA scares me more than any frightening boogeyman on Halloween. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) amended the Communications Act of 1934 to protect consumers from unsolicited telephone marketing calls as well as automated and pre-recorded messages. (ACA International) While the Do Not Call Registry is part of the TCPA, in general, anyone involved in the debt collection process was not required to comply with the Do Not Call regulations as long as the calls did not meet the definition of telephone solicitation. (ACA International)
In January 2010, we began using an automated dialer to reach our debtors. We were thrilled with the service. Our small staff simply could not call every account manually. We saw an immediate lift in the dollars we collected when the dialing campaigns were utilized. Not knowing all the ins and out of the TCPA, we continued working on the assumption that we were exempt because we are a first-party entity and we have an established business relationship with our customers. It never crossed our minds that we could be in violation. Interpreting the allowed exemptions incorrectly had caused us to disregard the broader prohibition of calls to wireless numbers.
This is such a hot topic that in 2011, ACA International (Association of Credit and Collection Professionals) published their guide to the TCPA. I immediately ordered the ACA’s publication, thinking I’d read through their little pamphlet and have my legal department make a recommendation, believing we would still be exempt. A few days later I receive a large package containing a 121-page BOOK on the subject. My heart skipped more than a few beats. Even now, I still haven’t been able to make my way through the entire thing.
I have found that our calling campaign does not “adversely affect the privacy rights of the individual called and does not include the transmission of an unsolicited advertisement” (ACA International), but we did need to suspend calls to wireless numbers where the customer had not provided express consent to contact them at that number. As you might imagine, this has had a tremendous impact on us. It’s no wonder, because according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention semi-annual survey of general health released on October 12, 2012, more than three out of every 10 households are a cell-phone only residence – a number that is expected to grow to one out of every six. (Blumberg et al.)
My plan is to ask my clients (other city departments) to include a statement of consent to automated contact in every document that customers fill out. It is a huge undertaking, but one that has to be dealt with. I really would rather run smack-dab into the Grim Reaper than figure out how to remain in compliance with this complicated and intricately written piece of legislation.
My contacts in the governmental collection arena, including GRCA, have been asking about how this has impacted our business and how we are determining which numbers can be called and which cannot. What measures have you taken to ensure you meet the requirements of the TCPA?
ACA International. ACA's Guide to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. 2011.
Blumberg et al., "Wireless Substitution: State-level Estimates from the National Health Interview Survey, 2010–2011." National Health Statistics Report 61 (2012): Web. 30 Oct 2012