The Telephone Consumer Protection Act was passed in 1991 to protect consumers from harassing phone calls. Auto-dialed calls to consumers’ cell phones were made illegal by this law. Additionally, this law set up the Federal Communications Commission’s “do-not-call” registry for consumers to block unwarranted calls. Because technology makes it cheap for companies to make thousands of calls per minute with automatically dialed calls, many U.S. companies have been under attack in lawsuits about these calls, known as “robocalls.” The Federal Trade Commission’s website has concluded that the volume of these calls has reached record level. Companies such as Dell Inc, Coca-Cola Co, and Sallie Mae have been sued for sending unsolicited robocalls or text messages in the past.
Bank of America is the latest company targeted for automatic calls. The Bank has agreed to pay $32 million to settle charges of harassing debt collection calls to consumers’ cell phones. This is believed to be the largest payout under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. While Bank of America denies the allegations, the settlement agreement does resolve multiple class actions filed against Bank of America on behalf of 7.7 million of the bank’s credit card and mortgage loan customers.
Banks and other companies have legal remedies to collect on debts, and that’s as it should be. But debt collection calls can be harassing and very traumatic. The Plaintiffs have filed a motion in the U.S. District Court in northern California, requesting preliminary approval of the agreement. The agreement calls for Bank of America to stop calling cell phones unless a consumer has expressly given permission. The fundamental remedy in this settlement is for companies to change their practices. Class members have said that they just want the calls to stop.
Bank of America is accused of making multiple calls to cell phones at all hours of the day. Because many of the calls were pre-recorded, there is no way for consumers to request that the calls stop or voice complaints to a real person. In one of the actions, Sanda Ramierz, et al v. Bank of America, Ramierz was told that it was impossible for her number to be removed from the computer system after she requested that the debt collection agents stop calling her. She was called 54 times on her cell phone, mostly from an artificial or pre-recorded voice.
Under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, companies face up to $1,500 per illegal call or $1,500 for willfully violating the law. Bank of America is still facing a proposed class action in Florida for making robocalls to mortgage borrowers who had asked not to be called. Bank of America continues to deny violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act or any other law. Jeff Selbin, a lawyer with the East Bay Community Law Center, represents the Plaintiffs in this lawsuit. He is also a clinical professor of law at the University of California, Berkley. He did a very good job in this case.
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