The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is an act of Congress which was passed in 1991 to address consumer concerns about the practice of telemarketing in the United States. Under the TCPA, the activities of telemarketers are restricted, and consumers have the right to sue telemarketers who violate the TCPA. If a consumer's case is deemed valid, the violator may be fined up to $1,500 US, with the fine going to the consumer.
Clauses in the TCPA cover things like sending unsolicited advertisements to fax machines, the use of automated dialers, artificial and recorded voice messages, and text messages sent to cellular phones. The Act is designed to protect consumers from the intrusion of unwanted solicitations, in addition to the expense which can sometimes be associated with such solicitations. Under the TCPA, people who make advertising calls, faxes, or texts must identify themselves and the company they work for. The identification information must also include contact information for the business on behalf of whom the call is made.
If a consumer specifically requests that he or she be removed from the call list, this request must be honored. Consumers can also list home phones and personal cell phones on the National Do Not Call List, a list which is distributed to telemarketers. Business lines can be included on this list, but telemarketing calls to businesses are not considered strictly illegal, except in certain circumstances.
Telemarketers also may not call during certain hours, and they may not use autodialers and recorded messages on emergency numbers or to numbers which will result in charges to the consumer, such as cell phones. There are, of course, some exemptions to the TCPA. If an established business relationship exists, unsolicited calls are not illegal, and likewise if the calls are made on behalf of a non-profit organization, or for non-commercial purposes, which allows pollsters and political campaigns to make such calls.
The TCPA is administered by the FCC, which has a system for handling complaints. Consumers who believe that the TCPA has been violated can fill out a form with their phone number, the time of the call, and the identity of the caller. The FCC also asks for any additional information which will help them track down the entity who made the unsolicited call, such as caller ID readouts.