The world of auto-dialers exists in a complex legal landscape. With robocalls on the rise, companies must navigate federal and state regulations to avoid hefty fines or lawsuits when using auto dialing systems. This post examines the key laws impacting auto dialer software and how to remain compliant.
What is an Auto Dialer?
An “auto dialer” refers to technology capable of storing or generating phone numbers and calling them automatically. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) defines it as equipment with the capacity to:
- Store or produce telephone numbers using a random or sequential number generator
- Dial those numbers
Auto dialers allow companies to make a high volume of calls in a short time without manual dialing.
Types of Auto Dialers
There are several types of auto-dialing systems:
- Predictive dialers: Dial numbers automatically while telemarketers are occupied with another call. The FCC considers them a type of autodialer.
- Robotic dialers: Use a computerized system to deliver pre-recorded messages without a human on the line.
- Power dialers: Automatically dial stored lists of numbers, but only connect calls when a sales agent is available.
- Progressive dialers: Dial numbers from a list while adjusting the rate based on the number of available call center agents.
- Preview dialers: Allow call center staff to screen each lead before initiating an outbound call.
- Cloud-based dialers: Auto dialer software solutions hosted in the cloud for ease of use and flexibility. Cloud dialers offer anywhere accessibility.
Key Federal Regulations on Auto Dialers
Several federal laws regulate the use of auto dialer systems:
Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)
- Restricts calls made to cell phones using an autodialer or delivering prerecorded messages without prior consent.
- Establishes the national Do Not Call Registry listing consumers who opt-out of receiving telemarketing calls.
- Created by the FCC, which can update TCPA rules and fine violators up to $10,000 per call.
Telemarketing Sales Rule
- Regulates practices for telemarketing calls, including time restrictions and do not call compliance.
- Requires auto-dialer calls to transmit caller ID and enable opt-out opportunities.
- Violations can lead to fines of up to $43,792 per call by the FTC.
State Auto Dialer Laws
Some states have additional laws regarding auto dialer usage:
- Florida: Requires prior written consent to deliver pre-recorded telemarketing messages.
- Indiana: Bars callers from blocking their phone number to circumvent do not call lists.
- Colorado: Increased opt-out requirements and prohibits calls to cell phones without express consent.
Time Limitations for Auto Dialer Calls
The federal government restricts certain types of auto-dialed calls by time of day:
- Debt collection calls: Only permitted between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. in the recipient’s time zone.
- Telemarketing calls: Allowed from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., based on the consumer’s local time.
- Prerecorded voice calls: Only allowed with prior written consent and never before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
Certain numbers are off-limits for auto-dialing calls:
- Emergency numbers like 911.
- Hospitals or doctor’s offices.
- Paging or cellular services.
- Guest rooms or patient rooms at health care facilities.
- Public safety organizations like fire departments.
- Law enforcement agencies, including police stations.
Attempting these auto-dialed calls can lead to lawsuits and fines of over $10,000 per call.
Adhering to the National Do Not Call Registry
Marketers must download the National Do Not Call Registry at least once every 31 days and scrub their call lists against it to avoid fines. Key facts:
- Consumers can sign up for the registry to opt out of telemarketing calls.
- Registration is permanent—it does not expire after 5 years.
- There are limits on the frequency of calls to allowable numbers.
Violating the Do Not Call Registry carries penalties of over $43,000 per call.
Avoiding Abandoned Calls
If using a predictive autodialer, companies must avoid “abandoned calls.” These occur when:
- A call is answered by a live consumer.
- The auto-dialer connects it to a sales representative.
- That rep is unavailable, causing disconnection.
The FCC prohibits abandoning more than 3% of calls per 30-day period. Doing so can prompt investigations and fines.
Set auto dialed calls delivering pre-recorded messages have additional requirements:
- Prior written consent is needed with details like the company’s identity.
- Opt-out mechanisms must be provided during each call.
- Messages longer than 60 seconds could trigger violations.
Failing to meet these standards can lead to TCPA lawsuits and penalties.
Disclosure and Identification
When making auto-dialed calls, companies must:
- Provide a toll-free opt-out number that connects directly to an automated system.
- For telemarketing, disclose the identity of the caller within the first 60 seconds.
- Display current, valid caller ID information that consumers can call back.
Deceptive practices like caller ID spoofing can create legal liability.
Exceptions and Exemptions
Some auto-dialing activities are exempt from TCPA rules:
- Calls from healthcare providers checking on patients.
- Certain calls for school purposes or to collect government debt.
- Alerts that don’t contain telemarketing, such as flight updates and fraud warnings.
The FCC also exempts calls dialed manually by humans without an autodialer system. However, regulations continue to evolve, so regular legal review is crucial.
Choosing a Compliant Auto Dialer
To avoid the legal pitfalls outlined above, follow these tips when selecting auto dialer software:
- Ensure the system handles opt-out requests automatically.
- Look for abandoned call rate tracking and alerts.
- Confirm it integrates smoothly with the National Do Not Call Registry.
- Review that disclosed caller ID matches your business line.
- Select a provider that stays up-to-date on changing regulations.
The Future of Robocalls and Auto Dialing Laws
While auto-dialers remain in common use today, increased legislation indicates tighter regulations are likely on the horizon.
The TRACED Act, signed into law in 2019, requires service providers to authenticate calls and block illegally spoofed robocalls. Its full impact has yet to emerge but will shape the auto-dialing landscape for years to come.
Staying vigilant and working closely with knowledgeable legal counsel is the smartest approach for any business utilizing auto dialer systems. This will enable you to operate effectively while minimizing compliance risks and costs. With preparation and care, your company can strategically leverage auto-dialing technology while avoiding legal trouble.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I auto-dial cell phones without getting sued?
Yes, but only with prior express written consent and while following other federal and state requirements. The FCC specifically prohibits calls made to cell phones without consent using auto-dialers.
What happens if we accidentally call numbers on the Do Not Call Registry?
Calling phones on the National Do Not Call Registry can prompt investigations and lead to fines of over $43,000 per violation. Scrub your lists regularly to avoid errors.
Can we use an autodialer to send appointment reminders?
Yes, calls that are not telemarketing are generally exempt from TCPA rules. However, hospitals and healthcare providers still must follow HIPAA and other industry-specific regulations when auto dialing patients.
Auto dialer software enables companies to contact large volumes of customers quickly and efficiently. However, utilizing this technology without adhering to legal constraints can result in stiff penalties or litigation.
By understanding the latest federal and state regulations, screening call lists properly, and partnering with an auto dialer provider who prioritizes compliance, organizations can maximize the benefits of auto-dialers while minimizing their risks. With preparation and diligence, your business can strategically leverage auto-dialing technology to drive results.