With the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) assists consumers stop unwanted telephone calls, text messages and even faxes. Robocalls are unsolicited prerecorded telemarketing calls to landline home telephones, and all autodialed or prerecorded calls or text messages to wireless numbers, emergency numbers, and patient rooms at health care facilities. FCC rules limit many types of robocalls, though some calls are permissible if prior consent is given. Rules differ between landline and wireless phones.
In a Declaratory Ruling and Order of July 10, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) provided for several new exemptions from the TCPA, which prohibits calls or texts to cell phones without the prior express consent of the called party. A call is exempt from the TCPA if the call:
- Is made on behalf of a tax-exempt nonprofit organization.
- Is not made for a commercial purpose.
- Does not include an unsolicited advertisement, even if it is made for a commercial purpose.
Under the TCPA, individuals must provide express consent to receive certain types of calls and have the right to tell these companies, including debt collectors, to stop calling. For each unwanted call, a consumer may be able to collect between $500 and $1,500.
The FCC has recognized the following exemptions in a number of declaratory rulings:
- Financial institutions calls relevant to the security of the subscriber’s account.;
- Health care providers regarding appointments, test results, medication status, etc.;
- The Federal Government;
- Utilities regarding service issues, emergencies, outages, etc.; and
- Schools regarding weather closures, fire, health risks, threats, and unexcused absences and with express consent other school activities (consent evidenced by providing phone number to the school);
Financial institutions may contact their customers by telephone when accounts may have been compromised, or notify account holders of potential fraud without fear of liability and potentially damaging class action lawsuits.
Specifically, the FCC granted the American Bankers Association its request to permit calls and texts from banks and other financial institutions intending to prevent fraudulent transactions, identify theft, or data breaches. The FCC also exempted the confirmations of money transfers from financial institutions and found them to be especially time-sensitive in emergency situations where consumers may need immediate notification of receipt.
Health Care Industry
The FCC issued a new Declaratory Ruling/ Order which clarified and expanded the health care exemptions to cover wireless/ cellphones, permitting health care providers to place artificial/ prerecorded voice and text messages to cellphones, without the consumers’ prior express consent, written or otherwise, in order to convey important “health care messages” as defined and covered by HIPAA. These exemptions include health care messages relating to:
- Appointments and exams;
- Confirmations and reminders;
- Wellness checkups;
- Hospital pre-registration instructions;
- Pre-operative instructions;
- Lab results;
- Post-discharge follow-up intended to prevent readmission;
- Prescription notifications; and
- Home healthcare instructions;
A crucial component of this exemption is that consumers may not be “charged” for the call or text message. The FCC declared that the exemption applies to robocalls and texts to wireless numbers only if they are not charged to the recipient, including not being counted against any plan limits that apply to the recipient.
An amendment passed by Congress in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 exempts autodialed calls “made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States” from the TCPA's prior express consent requirement.
Notably, these rules only apply to calls initiated through an automatic telephone dialing system for the purpose of collecting debts owed to the federal government without the consumer's prior express consent. These rules do not alter or affect the TCPA's requirements for the collection of other types of debts or calls made to collect on debts owed to the federal government where the caller has already obtained the consumer's prior express consent to make calls using an ATDS.At Loan Lawyers, our South Florida consumer rights and debt defense attorneys help individuals get control over their problems with debt. If you are a consumer with no short-term solution to solving problems from unpaid debts, contact our office today by calling (888) FIGHT-13 (344-4813) and see how we can help.