Many of the prerecorded calls that seem to come just as you're sitting down to dinner are now illegal.
An amendment to the federal Telemarketing Sales Rule, announced more than a year ago, took effect today, Sept. 1. It includes prohibitions against a large number of robocalls.
There are a few catches, however. First, purely "informational" calls are exempt under the new rules. Thus, those calls from Orbitz announcing that your flight is departing two minutes later than expected will not be subject to a penalty.
Perhaps more annoyingly, public service announcements are exempt from the new rules, as are political calls. Political robocalls are especially common during election season, and aren't likely to stop anytime soon. Banks and telephone carriers are likewise exempt.
The TSR amendment, approved by the Federal Trade Commission in August 2008, subjects violators to fines of up to $16,000. Consumers can waive the prohibition by giving companies written permission to contact them.
The FTC, which oversees and enforces the TSR, has already asked consumers to be on the lookout for calls that violate the new rules. Consumers can also report violations by calling (877) FTC-HELP.
As FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a news release, "American consumers have made it crystal clear that few things annoy them more than the billions of commercial telemarketing robocalls they receive every year."
Leibowitz urged consumers being "harassed by robocallers" to "let us know, and we will go after them."
Consumers who want additional protection from telemarketers should add their name to the federal Do Not Call Registry.
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