New federal rule restricts telemarketers

Tuesday, September 1, 2009 | 9:21 p.m. CDT; updated 10:00 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 1, 2009

COLUMBIA — A new federal rule prohibits certain kinds of robocalls, effective Sept. 1, according to a statement from the Federal Trade Commission. The rule doesn't apply to campaign calls, an issue the state legislature addressed this past session.

According to the release, the new rule adds to the Telemarketing Sales Rule, which was enacted a year ago. Telemarketers and sales representatives will now be fined $16,000 per call if the recipient has not agreed in writing to accept the message.

The Missouri No Call List already prohibits telemarketers in the state from calling people on the list who have registered their phone numbers.

Telemarketing robocalls are prohibited even if the recipient has done business with the seller, according to the press release.

The rule only applies to callers who promote the sale of goods or services. Informational messages are allowed, including calls from a school or an airline alerting customers about canceled flights.

Other messages not covered by the rule are calls from political figures, banks, charity organizations, telephone carriers, debt collectors and some health care messages.

Richmond resident Janet Sneed said she receives about two calls a week from telemarketers trying to sell her a product. She said they usually call around dinner time and she tells them she is not interested.

"The rule will give us peace of mind that they (telemarketers) won't be interrupting our lives," Sneed said.

Columbia resident Karen Jones said she gets four or five calls a day. Jones is a foster parent and is involved in respite care, which allows other foster parents to call her if they need her to take care of their children for any reason.

"The phone rings off the hook as it is," Jones said. "I don't need the extra aggravation."

Even though Jones is on the state No Call List, she receives calls from companies she does business with. She also receives calls on her cell phone from companies she has never been involved with.

While the rule does not apply to political calls, Missouri lawmakers have strong feelings about including them. State Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, sponsored a bill last legislative session to expand the rules about political robocalls.

State Rep. Mary Still, a Columbia Democrat, said she supports the new rule, and she plans to sponsor a bill that would ban political robocalls completely.

Still said she thinks robocalls make people tired of politics and less inclined to vote.

She said she has never used a robocall in a campaign and has never had them used against her. She said she thinks people prefer to talk directly with candidates rather than with a prerecorded message.

Jones, the Columbia foster mother, said during the election she received around two political calls a day.

"They have never affected my vote," Jones said. "Just made me upset."

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