Who voices illegal robocalls? Should you remove certain telemarketers from your list? - PART ONE


NOTE: This is the first post in a two-part article. Click here for part two!

Since September 2009, it has been illegal for a telemarketer to make a pre-recorded sales call to a consumer unless the telemarketer has the consumer’s prior written authorization to do so – regardless of whether the consumer has registered on the Federal Do Not Call list.

Yet, as you may be painfully aware, such robocalls continue to be made by the billions. The Federal and state governments vigorously enforce the laws and lay traps for violators, but the pace has hardly slowed.

It affects you as a consumer. How does it affect you as potential telephony talent?

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This article summarizes an evolving situation. We believe it to be correct, but it is not legal advice, the laws and regulations may have changed, and there are additional details not mentioned here. This article focuses on calls made to personal landline numbers in the United States. There are other requirements for calls to other types of numbers (e.g. business or mobile), or to other countries, or manually dialed calls.

Also, this article mentions some of the many legitimate reasons for robocalling. We assume the vast majority of legitimate businesses adhere to the extensive requirements, and do not intentionally call illegally. (The law provides them a measure of “safe harbor” in case of inadvertent error, oversight or misunderstanding.) The sheer volume of flagrantly illegal calls and scams are what reflect badly on this channel, and it’s those “marketers” whom talent might try to avoid.

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Over the past five years, illegal phone spamming has mushroomed largely due to automated calling software, VOIP technology, offshore origination, and Caller ID “spoofing.” In FY 2014, the Federal Trade Commission received an average of 150,000 complaints about robocalls per month. That includes legitimate robocalls, too -- as no doubt some of those are also potentially annoying -- but we assume legitimate calls are a drop in the robocall bucket’s total volume.

Although authorities have won millions, even billions of dollars in civil penalties and restitution, and have curtailed billions of calls, the shady recordings continue.

(In addition, many annoyance calls are made by live humans. Some of them are legitimate, some are not. In any case, the rule for non-recorded calls are somewhat different, and not within the scope of this article.)

An FTC spokesperson recently told us:

“Many of the illegal robocall messages that are common are ones that have been around for several years, indicating recycling. Nonetheless, we have seen other companies that create their own messages by simply having an employee record it.”

(As occasional recipients of robocalls, we note that sometimes a roughly voiced line or two is crudely dropped into a more polished performance.)

But the FTC also told us, “We have not encountered a company that has hired professional voice talent to voice robocalls.”

We’re a bit surprised by that. Although some recorded robocalls are obviously not voiced by a pro, the reads on many illegal calls are exemplary – worthy of a professional voice talent’s telephony demo. Maybe those are the recycled ones.

In any case, despite vigilance by the FTC, the FCC, corporate-sector providers and others, illegal calling continues, and sooner or later someone somewhere is going to want new robocopy recorded. Besides, the more people who understand what’s happening behind the scenes, the better. So here’s what we’ve found....

How do you know it’s a robocall script?

How can you tell if the message you’ve been hired to voice is legitimate? That might be hard to know, even impossible. The producer of a telephony job might be several degrees away from the actual “marketer.” The very same telephone sales script might work as a YouTube video, or a radio commercial. And with a few simple edits or additions, even a video script might be turned into an outgoing phone message.

Furthermore, certain entities are except from the restrictions of the Telemarketing Sales Rule (aka “TSR,” “the Rule” or “the Do Not Call list”), the restrictions on prerecorded calls, or both. These include certain prerecorded healthcare messages and some prerecorded messages placed on behalf of a non-profit charitable organization to previous donors. A blanket exemption is held by political organizations, telephone surveyors, and companies that have an existing business relationship with the recipient. (The rule prohibits telemarketing robocalls to consumers whether or not the recipient has previously done business with the seller. ) Banks and telephone carriers might also be exempted from the current restrictions.

How likely is it that you’ll encounter a script to be used illegally? That’s hard to say. Although illegal robocalls number in the billions per year, the number of perpetrators might be fairly small. The FTC has exposed and prosecuted or penalized some of them, prohibiting their principals from operating in the telecommunications sphere again, but for all we know, some of those principals simply begin again under new names and/or from other countries, or are quickly replaced by new malefactors ... even using the same old recordings.

Who does those cheerful voices on shady messages?

The Internet hasn’t revealed who the voice of “Rachel” is, and we suspect she prays no one ever does. The practice of robocalling might even have been legal in whatever year she recorded it.

As we noted, the FTC surmises that scripts are recycled, with recordings handed from one perpetrator to another. For example, we’ve read that there once was an actual company called “Cardmember Services,” and apparently they recorded the “This is Rachel...” script before the current robocall rules went into effect in 2009. That company was reportedly put out of business, but the recording has survived.

But since then, there have been “Michelle”, “Heather,” and “Anne from Account Services,” “Bob from Home Security,” “Jenny from Bahama Cruise Vacations,” and others, so it seems somebody’s freshening the list. And the illegal robocall “industry” continues to have players, even if their number is small.

So the most we can do, for now, is suggest a few warning signs. If you encounter any of these, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re working for some low-life marketer. When the rules are followed, telemarketing is an honorable and even appreciated practice. But if you have qualms about your voice being possibly unappreciated by consumers, these yellow flags might be at least reason to ask some preliminary questions and look closely at your contract.

(To be continued next week.)

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