Two new state laws have significantly increased the fines that individuals and companies face if they send consumers unsolicited text messages or bother them with “robocalls.”
The pieces of legislation are among the slew of bills that were passed earlier this year and became law Oct. 1.
One, introduced by the General Law and Judiciary committees, broadens the scope of state laws regulating telemarketers. It makes it illegal for telephone marketers to make unsolicited sales calls -including sending text messages and other media messages – to consumers who have signed up to be on the Do Not Call Registry unless those consumers give “express written consent.”
In the digital age, when more and more communication is done via texting, a growing number of companies are using text messages for marketing. Standard practice, however, is for businesses to get an explicit opt-in from consumers before contacting them in that manner.
In the past, such solicitors were allowed to send text messages to consumers who had given written or verbal consent, but verbal permission is no longer allowed under the new law. All unsolicited text or media messages (such as audio, video or photographs) are prohibited.
Along the same lines, the bill also increases the fines violators will face for breaking the long-standing Do Not Call law. The maximum fine for each violation of the Do Not Call Registry has swelled from the previous maximum of $11,000 to a new limit of $20,000. Calling people who are on the Do Not Call Registry constitutes “an unfair and deceptive trade practice” under state law.
On a national level, the Do Not Call law is regulated by the Federal Communication Commission and the Federal Trade Commission. In Connecticut, it also is regulated and enforced by the state Department of Consumer Protection.
There are some notable exceptions to the Do Not Call Registry. Political campaigners, for instance, who are busy this time of year as Election Day approaches, are not governed by Do Not Call law so the new state law won’t affect them.
Also, the Do Not Call law applies only to residential phone lines, not those belonging to businesses.
Other exemptions are: businesses calling about an existing debt, contract or payment; businesses that started within the last year; tax-exempt or nonprofit entities; prerecorded messages or emergency calls needed for health and safety; places that consumers have given prior consent; and businesses with which consumers have a pre-existing relationship.
The new state law also prohibits telemarketers from making robocalls, which are unsolicited, recorded sales calls that are automatically dialed. Such calls typically continue even after the recipient has hung up the phone.
With these changes, legislators want consumers to know their rights. The new law mandates that every telephone and telecommunications company provide a “conspicuous” notice to its customers at least twice a year on or with their billing statement. The notice must let the customers know which telemarketing actions are illegal, how to get their number on the Do Not Call Registry and how to get a registry complaint form from the state Department of Consumer Protection’s website.
Telecommunications companies still are allowed to send a text or media message to an existing customer – as long as it is at no cost to the customer – in several instances, under the bill. Valid reasons for doing so are: a debt that has not yet been paid, an existing contract between the company and the customer, a wireless emergency alert authorized by federal law, or a request for customer service that has been initiated by the customer.
Another related law that took effect Oct. 1, introduced by the General Law Committee, increases the maximum fine that faces anyone who makes robocalls. The maximum fine has doubled, from $500 to $1,000.