Do Not Call List Violators Slapped with Big Fines

Published April 1, 2009

The Federal Trade Commission is showing little tolerance for companies that violate the Do Not Call law Congress passed to stop annoying phone solicitations.

The latest alleged perpetrator is Orlando, Florida-based Westgate Resorts, one of the nation’s largest timeshare companies. The firm was recently charged with making thousands of calls to people on the National Do Not Call Registry.

Westgate in late January agreed to pay $900,000 to settle the charges, according to the FTC. All monies collected from the cases go to the U.S. Treasury.

‘Very Good Idea’

“The Do Not Call List is a very good idea,” said Bruce Abramson, an intellectual property expert and president of the San Francisco-based consultancy firm Informationism, Inc. “People should have a way of opting in and out of anything they want. If people have taken the time to sign up and ensure that they will not be bothered, then they shouldn’t be.

“I don’t think there is a way around that,” Abramson added. “If you miss out on an opportunity for something, that is the risk you take for signing up on the list, but that doesn’t mean you should get harassed. Businesses should get fined for violating the rule and calling numbers on the list.”

Also reprimanded for failing to adhere to the Do Not Call regulations were Accumen Management Services Inc. and its subsidiary, All in One Vacation Club. The company settled with the government for $275,000.

Accumen was accused of telemarketing to people who filled out entry forms for a chance to win a vacation. Many of those calls went to people on the Do Not Call List who had not agreed to be called about timeshares.

Telemarketing calls to registered numbers are permissible only with written consent or an “established business relationship” between the consumer and the company. Abramson suggests there’s another instance in which a company should be given leniency if a registered number is called.

‘A Little Discretion’ Needed

“You need to have a little discretion,” Abramson said. “If a number is accidentally called due to a misdial, that’s not an enforcement issue. If a company repeatedly ignores the fact that a number is registered, that’s a real problem.”

About 40 companies have been fined for allegedly violating the registry. The largest Do Not Call case was against Direct TV, Inc., which spent $5.3 million in settling charges in 2005.

Some 167 million phone numbers are on the Do Not Call Registry.

Aricka Flowers ([email protected]) writes from Chicago.