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July 2011 : The Truth About 'The Truth in Caller ID Act'

by Joseph Sanscrainte, an attorney specializing in telemarketing law.

It is unlawful for any person within the United States, in connection with any telecommunications service or IP-enabled voice service, to cause any caller identification service to knowingly transmit misleading or inaccurate caller identification information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value.

- Truth in Caller ID Act

After a few unsuccessful attempts by Congress to get a caller ID bill signed into law, President Barack Obama signed the Truth in Caller ID Act on December 22, 2010. The bill's key phrase (see above), has become the linchpin for the FCC's implementing regulations, which were released on June 22, 2011 (and which will become effective 30 days after their publication in the Federal Register.)

For many in the teleservices sector, Caller ID transmission poses little to no difficulty - but a review of the basics is, I believe, in order:

  • Any entity that engages in telemarketing has to transmit caller ID information.
  • This information must include: 1) either the "calling party number" (CPN) or "automatic number identification" information (ANI); and 2) when made available by the telemarketer's carrier, the name of the telemarketer. (It's not a violation to substitute the name of the seller on behalf of which the telemarketing call is placed and the seller's customer service telephone number.)
  • The key thing here is - any number provided must permit any individual to make a Do Not Call request during regular business hours. (And for good measure, the FCC also specifically prohibits blocking of Caller ID information by telemarketers.)

Understandably, given the above rules, some telemarketers get a little antsy when they start thinking about playing around with Caller ID, even where there is no attempt to defraud consumers. The bulk of the FCC's Order is spent addressing the broad applicability of the plain language of the Caller ID Act prohibiting any "knowing" transmission of misleading or inaccurate Caller ID information with the intent to defraud. The FCC concludes that the language is effective "as is," and it is not required for the FCC to carve out exemptions or to create exceptions with regard to specific practices. The FCC concludes, with a tone of finality, that other than the specific exemptions outlined in the Caller ID Act (law enforcement activity and court orders), "we decline to adopt any other exemptions from the Act."

One question remains, however - what about good-faith attempts by telemarketers to provide a local number to consumers via Caller ID, rather than a number that may require long-distance charges to be incurred by the consumer in the event of a phone call by the consumer? Although the FCC declined, as noted above, to adopt a specific exemption addressing this practice, the FCC did specifically state that manipulating Caller ID to display a local number is not, in and of itself, a violation of the Truth in Caller ID Act. The FCC added a rather obvious caveat, however, again echoing its conclusions regarding the all-encompassing nature of the language quoted at the top of this article: "if the display of a ?spoofed' local number is done as a part of a scheme to defraud, cause harm, or obtain anything of value, then the person or entity perpetrating the scheme would be in violation."

So, bottom line - if you telemarket (or even if you're just involved in transmitting Caller ID in some capacity), don't knowingly transmit Caller ID information or manipulate the transmission of Caller ID with an intent to defraud. (Just like Dad said: "never lie, cheat, or steal," right? Pretty straightforward.) For those willing to tempt the fates, the FCC includes penalties of $10,000.00 for each violation, or three times that amount for each day of a continuing violation (with a cap of $1,000,000.00 for ongoing violations related to any single act or failure to act.)

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