What Constitutes A “Robocaller?”

A robocaller differs from an autodialer. Understanding the two terms is a critical component of remaining compliant with state and federal laws. 

When someone receives a text message or a phone call, is that an example of an autodialer or a robocall? The importance of that answer lies within federal legislation. In 1991, federal lawmakers enacted the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Anyone experienced in the telemarketing industry is intimately familiar with it. This is where the term “automatic telephone dialing system” comes into play. 

For the sake of simplification, the “automatic telephone dialing system” was one of many terms used in the legislation and it was broad enough to encompass a wide range of technology. It did not limit the term to roboocallers, or those who employed an “artificial or prerecorded voice”, but it took it one step further. It banned the use of most technology to select and make unsolicited calls and texts. 

Where The Two Terms Divide

In 2021, auto-dialing became significantly less restrictive. The reason is that the Supreme Court narrowed the definition of autodialers (or “automatic telephone dialing systems”) which many lower courts had applied for years. According to the Supreme Court, the TCPA more properly defines an autodialer as technology that creates numbers at random or sequentially and/or dials them. However, since most current autodialers are not employed that way – most being used to dial from specific list fed into the dialer – most autodialers, as they are usually being used currently, are being used legally. 

Robocalls are pre-recorded messages that you receive that usually try to sell you something. With few exceptions, these are illegal if you did not previously consent to receive them. Other violations sometimes compound the problem. You may have seen caller numbers show up on your phone as if from a government agency or other legitimate caller when they are not. This is an illegal tactic known as “spoofing.” And if that number is disguised as a local number (to prompt you to answer more readily) it is referred to as “neighbor spoofing.”

Robocalls Can Still Be Legal

Not all pre-recorded messages are illegal—especially if you consent to receive them. And there are more generalized exceptions. For example, you may receive messages from political candidates or campaigns and that is typically within the boundaries of the law. 

Other examples include messages from healthcare providers, debt collection agencies, and charities. Lastly, sending messages that contain nothing but information is also usually legal. The call you receive (a pre-recorded message) stating that your flight has been delayed isn’t selling you anything, and this form of communication is within the law. 

Cove Law, P.A. 

The critical takeaway from this blog is that not only do telemarketing laws evolve rapidly, but it can be challenging to stay compliant. If you are someone in the telemarketing industry struggling to remain compliant and need legal advice regarding telemarketing law, contact Cove Law, P.A., for your free initial consultation.

Andrew Cove
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