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White Collar + Fraud + Investigations + Compliance

With Recent Enforcement Action, DOJ and FTC Join the FCC in Targeting the Use of Ringless Voicemails

On February 17, 2023, the FTC brought its first civil enforcement action under the Telemarketing Sales Rule, 16 C.F.R. Part 310 (“TSR”), in nearly one year.  In U.S. v. Stratics Networks Inc., et al., which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, the FTC seeks to stop a group of companies and individuals that it claims are “responsible for delivering tens of millions of unwanted Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and ringless voicemail (RVM) phony debt service robocalls to consumers nationwide.”  Because the FTC is seeking civil penalties, the Complaint was filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the FTC.

The Complaint alleges that certain telecommunications service companies, Stratics Networks, Inc., Netlatitude Inc., and Kurt Hannigan, Netlatitude’s president, violated the TSR by providing assistance and technological support to telemarketers that placed calls, including ringless voicemails, to numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry and without truthfully identifying the seller of the goods and services being marketed. 

The FTC also named as defendants several of Stratics Networks’ customers that the FTC alleges used the Stratics Networks platform to illegally telemarket credit card debt relief services.  The Complaint alleges that certain of these defendants violated the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45(a), by misrepresenting the terms of services and violated the TSR by making such misrepresentations, failing to clearly and truthfully identify the seller of their services, placing prerecorded voice messages without consent, and charging or receiving a fee in advance of providing debt relief services.

Although the TSR does not specifically address ringless voicemail and does not expressly provide that ringless voicemails are calls covered by the TSR, the Complaint alleges that Stratics knew or should have been aware that ringless voicemails are covered by the TSR based on the FTC’s case against Redwood Scientific Technologies, Inc., which was pending in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California between October 2018 and 2022, and addressed this topic.  See U.S. v. Cardiff, et al., No. 18-cv-2104 (C.D. Cal. 2018).

The FCC also recently issued a declaratory ruling establishing that ringless voicemails constitute calls under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.  With this additional enforcement action from the FTC, it appears that both federal agencies are targeting the use of ringless voicemail technologies in violation of telemarketing laws.

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