As the world grapples with the coronavirus crisis, companies may be reaching out with products and services related to the pandemic. This could range from delivery services to scammers offering fake coronavirus cures.
Those selling products and services often take to phone lines to reach consumers, possibly risking legal violations to make a sale. These calls are continuing during the global pandemic, but the laws around them have changed.
The state of emergency declared around the country impacts types of communications covered under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), a law put in place to help protect consumers from telemarketing. Because of COVID-19, some types of communication may be exempt under the law.
What is the TCPA?
The TCPA is a federal law passed by Congress in 1991 in an attempt to protect Americans from harassing robocalls from telemarketers. Although it has been decades, lawmakers and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have regularly pushed through updates to the TCPA which have kept the law relevant amidst evolving technology and legal challenges.
For example, in 2003, the FCC partnered with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to establish the National Do Not Call Registry. It allows people to register their phone numbers with the national list to indicate that they do not want to be contacted with telemarketing calls or texts. Businesses are required to comply with these requests within 30 days of someone registering their number.
The original TCPA rules had a similar provision requiring businesses to maintain a company-wide Do Not Call List which consumers could request to be added to. These lists are still required along with the national registry.
Further rule changes in 2012 made it harder for businesses to dodge liability under the law by closing a previous loophole commonly employed by companies. After these changes, businesses could no longer justify unsolicited telemarketing calls or texts by citing an “established business relationship.” Instead, businesses must secure prior express written consent before contacting consumers.
The TCPA has always included provisions allowing emergency communications to be sent without express consent. However, these exceptions are very narrow and may not apply to all coronavirus-related messages sent during the global pandemic.
What is the Consent Policy of the TCPA?
Advancing technology makes many facets of our lives more convenient, but for the recipients of spam calls, faxes, and texts, telemarketing technology may feel quite inconvenient. Those selling products and services often use phone lines to reach consumers, potentially risking breaking the law to make a sale.
Per TPCA laws, telemarketers can only contact consumers who have given their express consent to be contacted. For the purposes of the TPCA, telemarketing includes attempts to sell or promote goods and services.
Consumers should be aware that many businesses may subtly try to get consumers to agree to receive calls and texts. These agreements can be tagged onto business contracts or other agreements, and consumers may not realize they are signing up for messages. However, businesses must give consumers the opportunity to opt-out from text messages at any time. This opting-out represents a withdrawal of consent, after which point a business is prohibited from contacting the consumer for telemarketing purposes.
One way consumers can actively refuse consent to receive telemarketing calls is by registering their phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry. Telemarketers are prohibited from calling numbers on this list and other Do Not Call lists, and can face fines for doing so.
What Kind of Coronavirus Texts are Allowed?
Under normal circumstances, there are some exceptions to TCPA laws. The TCPA allows for additional exceptions for communications sent for emergency purposes.
Per the TCPA emergency exemption, calls and texts made for emergency purposes do not require consent of the recipient. The law defines emergency purposes as those that affect the health and safety of the recipient.
The exact type of coronavirus messages that are eligible for exemption is up for some debate, as this situation is a new one. However, many messages regarding the crisis may be eligible for exceptions.
Previously, calls regarding medical bills were not considered to be emergency communications and were not eligible for exceptions. In contrast, prescription reminders are typically considered to be emergency communications, as they immediately affect the health and safety of patients. Both of these types of communication may come into play during the coronavirus, as the pandemic affects both patient care and medical bills.
Another type of coronavirus-related message that may fall under the emergency exemption is school-related emergency messaging. These messages may include communications from the school regarding closures, threats of danger, fires, health risks, and severe weather affecting schools. Schools around the country have closed due to the coronavirus, and many may be sending messages to families about these closures.
Repercussions of TPCA Violation and Coronavirus TPCA Lawsuit Examples
Businesses that violate the TCPA face fines for each violation: Up to $500 for each negligent violation of the TPCA, either by calling a number on the Do Not Call Registry or by sending a call that violates the law in another way. Additionally, violators face up to $1,500 in fines per willful violation of the law.
Businesses and parties can also receive an injunction barring them from violating TCPA laws in the future.
One of the main ways that consumers can fight back against TCPA violations is by filing a TCPA violation lawsuit, This avenue is still available during the coronavirus pandemic. Filing a coronavirus TPCA lawsuit is one way that consumers can hold businesses and telemarketers accountable, and help ensure that the coronavirus emergency communication exception to the TCPA is not being misused.
During the coronavirus, businesses may try to take advantage of the emergency messaging exception in the TCPA to send messages that are not really related to the emergency. Some businesses may disguise telemarketing and profit ploys as emergency messages, but consumers do have recourse. If you have received calls, texts, or faxes like this, you may be eligible to file a coronavirus TCPA lawsuit.
For instance, if you received a telemarketing message advertising a bogus coronavirus cure or services only slightly related to the pandemic, the senders may be trying to pretend that these messages are emergencies when they are not.
How to File a Coronavirus TCPA Lawsuit
To file a coronavirus TCPA lawsuit, it is important to keep voicemails, texts and faxes that you believe violate TCPA laws. These messages can be valuable pieces of evidence in building a strong legal claim, particularly because you could receive compensation for each violation of the law.
Contacting an experienced TCPA lawyer is the next step in filing a coronavirus TCPA lawsuit — they can help you determine if you do have a legal claim.
Join a Free Coronavirus TCPA Class Action Lawsuit Investigation
If you received unsolicited coronavirus texts, robocalls, or pre-recorded messages, you may be eligible to join a FREE coronavirus TCPA class action lawsuit investigation.
This article is not legal advice. It is presented
for informational purposes only.
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