If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times: calling or texting someone without their permission can get companies into a lot of trouble. Following changes to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act that came into effect in October, 2013, businesses need prior express written consent to phone or text customers using autodialing, robocalling, and other unsolicited calls. While exceptions apply – companies can still manually dial customers who have an “established business relationship,” and purely informational or non-commercial calls are exempt from the FCC’s regulations – many companies have been hit with heavy fines and lawsuits after failing to follow the new rules. Nobody likes nuisance calls, and the beefed-up TCPA is designed to offer a very real deterrent; fines now range from $500 to $1,500 per unsolicited call or text. It doesn’t take a lot of calls for the charges to start adding up –so why are so many companies still getting it wrong?
FCC Calls Out Robocall Companies
Earlier this month, the FCC cited three different companies for TCPA violations, accusing them all of using robocalling software to contact potential customers. Robocalling, unlike autodialing, plays a recorded message to a list of phone numbers, and is one of the most unpopular forms of spam among consumers. On May 4, the FCC warned Call-Em-All LLC, Ifonoclast Inc, and M.J. Ross Group Inc that they would face heavy fines if they didn’t stop sending prerecorded messages to cell phones without the users’ permission. It’s not the first time, either – in 2013, Call-Em-All was ordered to give the FCC a list of numbers dialed during a two week period in October, 2012. An FCC investigation found that none of the people contacted had given their permission, and that the prerecorded calls where in violation of the TCPA.
Under the new rules, the three companies cited for potential violations could see fines of up to $16,000 for each call made, depending on the nature of the call.
Now We’re Cruising: TCPA Class Actions may Consolidate
Travel company Consolidated World Travel Inc., which operates Holiday Cruise Line, is currently facing class action lawsuits in New Jersey, Illinois, California and Florida for allegedly calling and texting advertisements to cell phones without permission. One plaintiff, filing a suit in California, says he received 15 text messages without ever having contacted the company, and after calling to investigate, began receiving e-mails soliciting his business. Other lawsuits accused the company of using an autodialer and annoying customers with repeated calls. Now, attorneys are pushing for consolidation, which would bring the various lawsuits together to be heard by a single judge. This, they say, would save time and resources, and avoid any conflicting decisions. At the moment, Florida looks like the most likely choice for the case to be heard, since Consolidated World Travel is headquartered in Miami. The company offers cruises to the Bahamas from Florida on Grand Celebration cruise ships, also operating as Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line.
Yahoo Faces Suit for Unwanted Texts
It’s not just smaller companies that fall foul of the TCPA. Plaintiffs in a putative class action against Yahoo Inc. are seeking certification for a group of people who received text messages from the company without ever giving permission. According to plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Yahoo sent “welcome text messages” to Sprint and T-Mobile users who received any previous message via Yahoo Messenger software. As an unwanted text sent without express consent from the users, this is a violation of the TCPA, plaintiffs allege. The case was consolidated in July 2014 when two separate lawsuits were brought together, and is now seeking class certification from the judge. As the motion itself puts it:
“A single lawsuit adjudicating the question of whether Yahoo’s texts violate the TCPA is superior to countless identical individual lawsuits pressing the same question, and potentially resulting in inconsistent rulings.”
More than 500,000 potential class members may have received the messages after a friend or contact used Yahoo Messenger, while each violation could warrant a fine of up to $1,500.
Time to Face Fax: Costco Faces Suits for Unwanted Advertisements
It’s not just unwanted phone calls and text messages that the TCPA forbids: faxes, still used by a surprisingly large number of people, are covered by the same regulations. Meaning companies can face fines for faxing without permission. That’s just what two lawsuits accuse Costco of doing, with plaintiffs in both suits arguing that the company’s unsolicited fax advertisements violate the TCPA and constitute “unfair practice […] contrary to public policy.”
The first suit, filed in April in Missouri, has now been removed to federal court, while the second was filed this month by a Chicago-based company. Among the accusations, ABC Business Forms alleges that Costco failed to include an opt-out notice and violated Illinois’ Consumer Fraud Act. As well as standard damages under the TCPA, the company is also suing for the cost of lost resources (in this case, paper, toner, and ink) used by the faxes. Costco apparently saved more than $400,000 by using faxes instead of mailing out advertisements, requiring customers to foot the bill for the cost of printing the material.