All articles

Are robocalls illegal? Laws, protections, and best practices

Robocalls have become a nuisance in the lives of consumers and businesses alike. These unsolicited calls often deliver pre-recorded messages that advertise products or services. 

The prevalence of robocalls is staggering, with billions of such calls made annually worldwide. These unwanted interruptions disrupt individuals' daily routines and, when used by scammers, can lead to devastating financial losses. For businesses, robocalls can damage their reputation and disrupt legitimate communication with customers.

This article addresses the complex issue of robocalls by explaining their legal aspects and offering protection strategies for consumers and businesses. It emphasizes the importance of understanding regulations while highlighting practical steps that empower you to combat this invasive and potentially fraudulent communication.

What are robocalls?

Robocalls are automated telephone calls made using computerized systems, often featuring pre-recorded messages or text-to-speech technology. These calls are used for various purposes, including legitimate uses like appointment reminders. However, they are more commonly associated with unsolicited and often intrusive communication. So when are robocalls illegal? 

Here is a closer look at both legal and illegal types of robocalls. 

  • Legal Robocalls: Some robocalls are lawful and serve legitimate purposes. These include informational calls from political campaigns, charities, healthcare providers, and government agencies, as well as reminders from schools and businesses. Individuals who have given consent may also receive robocalls from businesses they have a relationship with.

  • Illegal Robocalls: On the flip side, illicit robocalls do not adhere to established regulations. These calls are typically made without consent and are often fraudulent or deceptive in nature. They include spam calls, telemarketing scams, and attempts to collect debts without proper authorization.

Although they are frustrating for consumers, businesses that use robocalling technology may unintentionally damage their reputation. Firstly, robocalls often cause widespread consumer frustration, overwhelming individuals with unsolicited interruptions.

This relentless barrage of calls has led many people to refrain from answering calls from unfamiliar or blocked numbers, with 87% of consumers perceiving any unidentified call as fraudulent. This link between robocalls and fraud has caused a decline in trust and an increased risk of falling victim to scams.

Another negative consequence of robocalls is that they act as a vector for scams. Illegitimate robocalls often serve as a method for fraudsters to impersonate reputable entities such as government agencies, financial institutions, or well-known companies. These deceptive tactics trick unsuspecting individuals into divulging sensitive personal information or making payments to fraudulent entities, which can result in substantial financial losses and emotional distress. 

Laws governing unwanted robocalls

Federal laws protecting consumers

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) stands as a pivotal federal law in the United States to safeguard consumers from the intrusion of unwanted telemarketing robocalls. Enacted in 1991, TCPA places strict regulations on robocalls, requiring prior written consent from recipients before initiating telemarketing calls via automated systems. Violations can result in substantial fines, providing a deterrent against unsolicited marketing calls.

Complementing TCPA is the Telemarketing Sales Rule, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This rule establishes strict requirements for telemarketers, including maintaining a "Do Not Call" list and prohibiting deceptive practices. It allows consumers to opt out of receiving telemarketing calls and sets clear rules for telemarketers to follow.

Another vital component of federal regulation is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Rule. It includes provisions like the National Do Not Call Registry, which allows individuals to opt out of receiving telemarketing calls. The FCC also focuses on preventing caller ID spoofing and takes action against entities involved in illegal robocalling.

Finally, the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, passed in 2019, strengthens federal efforts to combat illegal robocalls. This legislation enhances penalties for robocall violations and promotes the implementation of call authentication technology to prevent caller ID spoofing. The Act effectively provides consumers additional protection against fraudulent and bothersome robocalls.

State laws

In addition to federal laws, many U.S. states have enacted legislation addressing unwanted robocalls. These state-specific laws often complement federal regulations, offering additional protections and imposing varying requirements on telemarketers. Some states have stricter rules than others. These regulations can include provisions related to call frequency, exemptions for certain types of calls, and specific enforcement mechanisms. As a result, consumers may find varying levels of protection against robocalls depending on their state of residence.

When are robocalls illegal?

Robocalls are considered illegal under specific circumstances that violate established laws and regulations. One key criterion that renders a robocall illegal is the absence of prior written consent from the recipient for telemarketing calls made using automated systems. Calls that disregard the National Do Not Call Registry and those made to numbers on this list without permission also fall into the illegal category. Illegal robocalls often involve deceptive practices, such as impersonating government agencies and making false claims or fraudulent offers to deceive recipients.

Real-world examples of illegal robocall scenarios include unsolicited telemarketing calls that lack the recipient's consent, even from seemingly legitimate businesses. Scenarios, where fraudsters use robocalls to impersonate the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), threaten individuals with legal action, or demand immediate payments, are also illegal. Even robocalls that promote deceptive products or services with false promises can be categorized as illegal calls.

Consequences for making illegal robocalls can be severe, as violators may face substantial fines. Both the FCC and FTC actively pursue enforcement actions against illegal robocalls. In some cases, the penalties can amount to millions of dollars. These consequences and penalties highlight the importance of adhering to robocall regulations to protect consumers and maintain the integrity of telecommunications.

Protecting against robocalls

For consumers

Consumers can take several proactive steps to protect themselves from robocalls. For example:

  • Register on the National Do Not Call Registry: By adding your number to this official list, you can reduce the number of telemarketing calls you receive. Legitimate telemarketers must respect your preferences and refrain from calling you once you're on the registry.

  • Use Call-Blocking Apps: Mobile apps and services like the Hiya App can effectively block and label spam calls. They often maintain extensive databases of known robocall numbers, helping you identify and avoid them.

  • Be Cautious with Personal Information: Be mindful of sharing personal information over the phone, especially if you receive unsolicited calls. Scammers often attempt to gather sensitive information during robocalls, so it's essential to exercise caution and avoid divulging personal or financial details to unknown callers.

For businesses

Businesses can also take steps to ensure their calls are not mistaken for spam and build trust with customers. 

  • Register your business: Scammers often avoid revealing their personal identity. Businesses that proactively register their numbers with carriers and establish credibility are generally less likely to be marked with a call label. Keeping registration details current and adding new numbers as they’re implemented can ensure businesses uphold their reputation. 

  • Leverage Branded Caller ID: Branded caller ID displays your business's name and logo, making it instantly recognizable to customers. Identified calls build trust and credibility, increasing the chances that recipients will pick up the phone. Since one in three consumers say an impersonated call made them suspicious of any calls coming from that business, it is crucial to maintain a consistent and trustworthy caller ID.
  • Educate employees: Ensure that your employees know the best practices for customer communication. They should understand the importance of avoiding calling at unreasonable hours, presenting professional behavior on calls, and cultivating clear and honest communication during phone interactions to mitigate customer suspicion or mistrust. 

By following these measures, consumers can shield themselves from unwanted robocalls, while businesses can enhance their communication strategies to foster trust and reliability in their customer interactions.

How Hiya Helps

When so many people are inundated with robocalls, understanding the laws and protections surrounding them is crucial for businesses looking to improve their communication methods. Federal regulations are in place to combat unwanted robocalls, but illegal calls remain a significant issue. Fortunately, consumers can shield themselves by registering on the National Do Not Call Registry, using call-blocking apps, and being cautious with personal information. Accurate caller ID information and branded identification are crucial to building trust with customers and stakeholders.

Hiya plays a pivotal role in safeguarding consumers and businesses from the frustration of unwanted robocalls. Through its extensive database of known robocall numbers and spam indicators, Hiya empowers network providers to identify and label scam calls. This helps reduce the likelihood of individuals falling victim to fraudulent activities. Hiya's services enable consumers to take control of their phone experience, making it more secure and hassle-free.

Hiya aids businesses by ensuring that their calls are correctly identified, preventing them from being treated as spam. By providing accurate caller ID information, businesses can instill trust and credibility in their phone communications. The State of the Call 2023 report emphasizes the significance of caller ID in consumer perceptions, revealing that 72% of consumers are more likely to answer calls if they know who's calling. 

Taking action is essential. To help you navigate this complex issue, check out Hiya’s 10 Tips for a Positive Call Reputation. Reclaim control over your phone experience and ensure secure and trustworthy communication.

Author Hiya Team