Consumer Law: Telemarketing FAQ


Q: A telemarketer contacted me about helping me with my credit, asking for up-front money. Is this legal?

  • A: Maybe. The FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule states that telemarketers can't request advance payment to help repair your credit record, recover money you lost to other telemarketers, or help you get credit or loans if you:
    • Receive a call from a telemarketer in another state or country or
    • Make a call to a company in another state or country in response to a mail solicitation.

    But the FTC rule does not apply:

    • When you call to order from a catalog or in response to an ad on television or radio, or in a magazine or newspaper (with some exceptions)
    • To solicitations you received by fax or computer for goods or services; or
    • To certain types of businesses, including nonprofit organizations, investment brokers and advisors, banks and financial institutions


Q: A telemarketer sold me hundreds of dollars' worth of magazines. Am I obligated to pay for these?

  • A: Beware of telephone sales pitches for "free," "pre-paid" or "special" magazine subscription deals. An impulse purchase could leave you with years of monthly payments for magazines you may not want or could buy for less elsewhere. What's more, in some states you're legally obligated to pay for a subscription once you verbally agree to it. Frequently, the salesperson tape records the conversation, perhaps claiming it's for your protection. Later, the company may use the tape to "prove" you agreed to buy the magazines, selected a payment method, and understood the terms of the agreement.

    The FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule requires telemarketers to make certain disclosures and prohibits them from lying. It gives you the power to stop telemarketing calls you don't want and gives state law enforcement officers the authority to prosecute fraudulent telemarketers who operate across state lines.

    There is no federal law that regulates the cancellation of telephone agreements. Though there are certain state and local laws that require telemarketers to provide a cancellation period, don't agree to buy on the assumption that you can cancel later.


Q: Are the automatic dialers telemarketers use legal? I hate answering the phone only to hear nothing, then a click.

  • A: They can be used, but there are some restrictions. The FCC prohibits:
    • Voice message devices from calling residential phone lines unless it's an emergency or the person being called has agreed in advance
    • Unsolicited advertisements from being sent by fax to either a residence or a business
    • Prerecorded calls using automatic dialing machines from tying up your phone line for more than 5 seconds (or 25 seconds depending on your local telephone exchange) after you hang up


Q: Can telemarketers call me again after I've asked them not to?

  • A: No. The FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule requires telemarketer to not call again if you ask them not to. They also cannot:
    • Misrepresent what they're offering
    • Threaten, intimidate or harass consumers


Q: Just when can telemarketers call?

  • A: The FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule allows telemarketers to call between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.


Q: What does the FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule require telemarketers to do?

  • A: The rule requires telemarketers to:
    • Disclose the total cost and other terms of sale before you make any payment for the goods or services
    • Tell you if they don't allow refunds, exchanges or cancellations
    • Provide the odds of winning a prize, inform you that no purchase is necessary, and tell you how to get instructions for entering without buying anything; and
    • Provide the seller's name, disclose that it's a sales call, and tell you exactly what they're trying to sell


Q: Why do telemarketers only call my home number and not my cell phone? Mind you, I'm not complaining.

  • A: FCC rules prohibit automatic dialing machines and prerecorded voice message devices from calling:
    • Emergency phone lines
    • Guest or patient rooms in a hospital, nursing homes or similar establishments
    • Paging or cellular phone numbers
    • Any service for which the person called will be charged for the call



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