TCPA Regulations Michigan – Part 1
How the law can protect you as a consumer.
If you wish to read the TCPA Regulations Michigan interview, here is the transcript:
Patrick: Hi Rex, how are you doing?
Rex: Fine, Patrick. How are you?
Patrick: Oh, I’m doing great.
Patrick: If you could just introduce yourself a little bit and tell us about what you do and what your specialty is.
Rex: Sure. My name’s Rex Anderson. I am the owner of Rex Anderson, P.C. We’re a law firm specializing in consumer protection law and specifically, we sue harassing and abusive debt collectors and more recently we’ve branched off into the area of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, where we’re suing both debt collection agencies and telemarketers.
Patrick: And, you know, what’s this TCPA all about?
Rex: Well, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act is probably the most popular federal consumer law that’s ever been. It is a law that protects our privacy, we the people, our privacy and allows us to pick and choose how we’re going to be contacted by telemarketers and debt collectors.
Patrick: Uh, and, what violates this Telephone Consumer Protection Act?
Rex: Well, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act consists of three separate sections. The first section deals with calls to cell phones and any call that you receive on your cell phone which has been made with the use of an automated telephone dialing system would violate the act. So, Congress is specifically punishing telemarketers and debt collection agencies that are making high volume calls with the use of a robo dialer.
Patrick: Ok, so, if I get some kind of call on my cell phone, out of the blue or someone saying, you know, you owe us a debt, um, it’s possible, maybe I don’t owe that debt, um, but they’re just harassing me, that would fall under the TCPA?
Rex: The other component to calls to a cell phone is that any time you receive a call to your cell phone and it uses an automated message, a prerecorded human voice message or an artificial voice message, that automatically violates the TCPA, unless you’ve given them express permission to call you on your cell phone.
Patrick: Okay, and could you give us a couple of examples of things in recent news or things you’ve heard or cases you’ve done, where they’ve violated the consumers within the TCPA?
Rex: Sure. Probably the most recent high profile case is the case against Papa John’s. There’s a class action lawsuit against Papa John’s for sending out 500,000 unsolicited text messages
Rex: That’s a lot, right, and they’re asking for 250 million dollars.
Patrick: Wow, that’s a big case, huh?
Rex: These cases are very good cases to have confirmed as a class action case because the damages are statutory. In other words, if the consumer proves that there’s been a violation of the TCPA, he or she is entitled to $500 per call and up to $1,500 if the consumer proves that the debt collector or telemarketer knew and willfully and knowingly made those calls.
Patrick: So, if I told some debt collector that was calling me on my cell phone, “Listen, stop calling me on my cell phone,” or direct them to some other way to contact me but they continue calling me on my mobile phone, that’s a violation of my rights?
Rex: Well, cases go both ways, so the best way to revoke consent, if you’ve ever given consent to be called on your cell phone, is to put that revocation in writing. Simply send out a letter that says, “I’m not sure if I ever gave you, or the original creditor, permission to call me in the fine print of whatever credit application that I filled out. If I did, I’m now revoking that consent. Please don’t call me at this cell phone number anymore,” and put the cell phone number in. Make sure you keep a copy of that letter and send it out certified and keep a copy of the green card when it comes back.
Patrick: So, if I did all of that, sent a letter to this creditor and explained to them, “Listen, don’t call me on this cell phone number,” now, what if they call my residential phone number, if I have one?
Rex: That’s a good point, Patrick. The second category of TCPA violations are considered calls to residential lines and unfortunately, there’s a loophole that the ACA basically made sure was put in the law that allows debt collection agencies to robo dial residential phones and the kicker here is that a debt collector can actually robo dial a residential phone even if the homeowner doesn’t owe the debt, they don’t have cause of action under the TCPA. But, they would have a cause of action under the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act, if they answered the phone, told the collector, “Look, you’re calling the wrong person. This is a case of mistaken identity. Stop calling me.” If the collector continued to robodial that person, then they would have a claim to file under the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act.
TCPA Regulations Michigan – Part Two
Here is the transcript for Part Two of this interview:
Patrick: Okay, so, Rex, I appreciate you filling us in on those residential lines with them calling those as well. What about… I hear a lot of people talking about the Do Not Call List. You know, they say, I’m getting these calls from people; I’m on the DNC, how come they’re still calling me? Could you give us a little input on that?
Rex: Sure. The third provision covered by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act are calls made to Do Not Call registered numbers. And that’s a very simple process. Anyone can call either the DNC Registry or simply go online. Type in ‘Do Not Call Registry’, the website pops up, it gives you three spots to put in your three numbers, up to three numbers, and they’ll send you a confirmation that you’ve registered those specific numbers on their registry.
Patrick: Now, do those three numbers only include residential lines or can those also be mobile?
Rex: Absolutely. They can be residential and mobile.
Rex: And in the case of calls to Do Not Call numbers, you don’t have to prove that the calls were made with the use of an automated telephone dialing system and there doesn’t need to be any proof of artificial or prerecorded voice messages.
Patrick: Oh. Okay.
Rex: They can be live calls by a collector or a telemarketer.
Patrick: For the DNC, if they continue to call numbers that we put on that list, which you hear people complaining about that, are the damages the same as if they’re calling with a robodialer to a cell phone, or how does that apply there?
Rex: Great question, Patrick. In the Sixth Circuit, where we reside, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, they’ve recently come down with a case, brought by a plaintiff of the name Charvat, and the case held that the two provisions under the TCPA, Sections 227B and 227C, calls to cell phones, calls to Do Not Call numbers, can be stacked, which is really a good thing for the consumer because instead of talking about a $500 call, we’re now talking up to $3,000 per call. Those damages can add up real quick if somebody’s number is stuck in a telemarketer or debt collection agency’s robodialer and the number just can’t get out!
Patrick: Right, they keep receiving the call. So in cases for consumers who are out there struggling with debt and the economy and the way it is, you know, many people have credit card debt and of course, these companies are going to want to collect on that money and they’ve gone through the steps of telling people, “Look, quit calling my cell phone number, my residential number,” and they continue to call. What’s the process that I can take personally to battle that when they call?
Rex: That’s a very good question, Patrick. You know, I guess I’d start off by saying that I think that most people feel a moral sense of obligation to pay their debts, but a lot of time to no fault of their own they find themselves in a position where they’ve either lost a job or they’ve gotten injured or sick and they’ve really found themselves behind the eight ball. Unfortunately, credit card companies and their pitbull debt collectors really don’t have a heart and soul and they’re not interested in hearing these excuses.
They’re not interested in settling these debts for fifty cents on the dollar because it’s more profitable for them to force people into bankruptcy and write the debt off. You know, there’s so much of these debts that comprise of phantom fees. We’re talking legal fees, usurious interest rates, sometimes thirty percent; that stuff adds up, snowballs, and it’s just putting people and their families in a real bad way.
So, to answer your question, you know, if you can’t work things out with the debt collector, or now what we know as, debt buyers, debt buyers buy credit card debt that’s been deemed uncollectable, the best bet is to find a good consumer lawyer, talk to them about it. Just because you owe a debt doesn’t mean you’re a criminal.
You’re not a criminal! You’re not somebody who is morally decrepit or defunct. You know, I mean, you’re in the same boat as a lot of people. We’ve undergone the worst financial crisis in the last five years since the Great Depression and yet, the debt collection industry, the debt buyer industry, is growing by leaps and bounds. It’s a billion dollar industry.
TCPA Regulations Michigan – Part Three
Here is Part Three and the final transcript of this interview:
Patrick: So, as a consumer, to protect myself from these debt collectors and debt buyers calling me all of the time, even though I’ve told them not to, what are some things I can do? Should I keep records of that? Should I voice record those calls? What are some things that we can do as a consumer to protect ourselves and possibly take that for a suit or to another consumer lawyer?
Rex: Great question. There are things that you can do. One thing is documenting the calls. Document the date, the time, the caller ID that shows up on your phone. On a lot of smartphones, you can actually take a snapshot of the information of the caller ID. I always tell folks, “Take those numbers that show up on your caller ID and Google them. Find out who’s calling you.” The problem these days is, we have a lot of scammers out there in cyberspace asking for a payment and check over the phone, a transfer from your bank. Never do it. Don’t do it because…
Patrick: It’ll suck your bank dry!
Rex: Not only that, but it may not even be a legitimate collector.
Rex: You have these folks out there, they’re scammers. They operate in the grey area. They’re on the fringe. They don’t want to be found, so when they come to me, the first thing we have to do is find out is “Do we have a viable defendant?” Somebody with a brick and mortar building, with employees and payroll, you know, phones where they are actually calling from. So, it’s important to document what occurs in that call, what’s being said to you, try to determine whether or not it’s an actual robocall. One way to do that is, you pick up the phone and you hear some dead air and you say, “Hello? Hello? Hello?” and nobody answers, but then you hear some clicking noises and then maybe a live person comes on the phone or you hear a prerecorded message. You can be pretty sure that’s a robocall.
Rex: Other things you can do would be to take pictures of your caller ID, get your phone records. Get your phone records and highlight those incoming calls. As much of this work that you can do before you go and see a consumer lawyer, bring your evidence in, show the consumer attorney your phone records, your caller ID photos, you’ve got all of the calls documented out. These cases are strict liability. All I have to do is go in the court, show the phone records, show the evidence that the calls were made, prove that it was an automated dialing system, which is what just about every business is using…
Patrick: I get them all of the time!
Patrick: So as far as, so that’s good, I mean, tracking that document is obviously going to build your case, when you’re going to go sue a debt collector. What about recording a call? I know certain states have laws where you have to get permission from the other person. How does that apply to people in Michigan?
Rex: Well, in Michigan, you’re allowed to record a call. Like an incoming call that you’re a participant to the conversation. It’s a pretty well established law. It would be better to let the other side know you were recording the call, and a lot of these debt collectors don’t care anyway. They don’t believe anything you say anyway, but you can record the calls and I would say, honestly, don’t bother recording the calls unless you’ve got a really abusive, harassing debt collector. Any time a debt collector is disrespectful, undignified, tells you something that’s not true, like they are going to sue you next week…
Patrick: Threatening you…
Rex: Right. You know, implying…
Patrick: It happens.
Rex: Sure. You know, implying that you are a bad person or you’re a criminal, that there’s going to be criminal prosecution. If they start calling your neighbors, family, that’s all illegal and it’s all designed to wrench a payment from the consumer, who often times just doesn’t have the wherewithal and make the payment.
Patrick: That’s some really good information about the TCPA. Could you give us some closing thoughts on the TCPA and possibly someone who is in a pinch right now, what should they do first to start battling debt collectors?
Rex: As I mentioned earlier, this is a law that’s very popular and Congressmen, Federal Judges, have all had their dinner interrupted or been woken up by these calls that are nothing but a nuisance and it’s all in the name of commerce. Telemarketers, sellers of services, they’re looking to increase their profits and get more business but they could care less about the aggravation it causes the rest of us.
Patrick: Right, what do they care if they’re going to get their money?
Rex: Right. My best advice to you is to go out, do a little bit of internet research, Google these laws, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act, find a good consumer lawyer. Why would you think twice about not contacting a lawyer who specializes in this area? It makes no sense to try and do this on your own. I know Dave Ramsey was quoted as trying to tell his folks, "You can deal with these debt collectors on your own," and although Dave Ramsey has great advice on many, many financial topics, he’s just plain wrong on that topic. If you want to maximize your remedy, protect your rights, go get a lawyer who specializes in Fair Debt Collection Practice Act cases, as well as Telephone Consumer Protection Act cases.
Patrick: Great. Well, I thank you for your time to do this interview, Rex.
Rex: Thanks a lot, Patrick.