Good news regarding telemarketing calls that play recorded messages

In a rule approved on Aug. 19, the U.S. government promises to reduce the number of automated recording telemarketing calls you receive. Those changes can’t come too soon.

Every day this week, my phone has rung with the same recording message: “Don’t be alarmed, but this is your final opportunity to get lower interest rates….” And there’s no way to stop ’em.

The new ruling from the Federal Trade Commission expressly bars telemarketing calls that deliver prerecorded messages, unless a consumer previously has agreed to accept such calls from the seller.

According to the FTC, the new rule — known as “16 CFR Part 310, Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR)” — “will not affect calls that deliver purely ‘informational’ prerecorded messages — notifying recipients, for example, that their flight has been canceled, that they have a service appointment, or similar messages. Such purely ‘informational’ calls are not covered by the TSR because they do not attempt to sell the called party any goods or services.”

You can read a clear summary of the new rules in a press release from the FTC. You can also download the entire 111-page ruling as a PDF.

When does all this happen? According to the FTC ruling,

The prerecorded call amendment has an effective date of December 1, 2008, for provisions requiring that all prerecorded telemarketing calls provide an automated interactive opt-out mechanism, and an effective date of September 1, 2009, for provisions requiring a written agreement from consumers to receive such calls.

The ruling also includes provisions for reducing the number of “abandoned calls.” That’s when a telemarketing company’s predictive dialing system calls you, you answer, but just hear a click and a dial tone. The call was disconnected because the telemarketer didn’t have a human representative ready to talk to you. According to the summary,

Inevitably, a call will sometimes connect when no sales representative is available. The TSR sets a limit on how often this can occur. It requires that at least 97 percent of a telemarketer’s calls that are answered in person — not by an answering machine — be connected to a salesperson within two seconds after a consumer answers. This is designed to minimize the number of “dead air” and “hang-up” calls that result when no salesperson is available to take the call.

I wish that percentage was 100%. If you don’t have anyone available, don’t dial. That would increase the telemarketer’s costs, or reduce their call volume, however, so the direct-marketing industry successfully lobbied the percentage down to 97%.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick