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Rules for Telephone Solicitations

Mail fraud promoters use the postal system to try to get money from you by offering something they don't intend to deliver. But a mail fraud scheme doesn't always start through the mail. It can sometimes begin with an unsolicited telephone call.

While there are many legitimate individuals and companies that use the telephone to solicit business, some con artists use a scripted sales pitch and an array of high-pressure sales tactics to obtain purchase commitments from victims.

However, both con artists and legitimate telemarketers sometimes use abusive techniques such as calling people's homes late at night. To protect consumers, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 was passed and became effective December 20, 1992. That act and regulations of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) help consumers avoid unwanted telephone solicitations and regulate certain abusive techniques. Under the new rules, telemarketers:

  • Are required to maintain company-specific do-not-call lists for consumers who have requested that they not receive unwanted telephone solicitations.

  • Are barred from calling homes before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m.

  • Are prohibited from using automatic dialing systems and pre-recorded messages where they may pose a threat to health and safety, such as using these techniques to call emergency lines and health care facilities.

  • Must, when making calls with an automatic dialing system, identify the caller, give caller's telephone number or address, and release the called party's line within five seconds of notice the called party has hung up.

  • May not send unsolicited or "junk fax" ads to telephone fax machines.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 also allows consumers and businesses to sue telemarketers who violate provisions of the act or the FCC's regulations. Consumers may sue in state court to stop violations or to recover any actual monetary damages suffered.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has no authority to investigate or punish telemarketers who use the abusive practices outlined in this tip sheet. The Postal Inspection Service's responsibility is to investigate telemarketers who solicit funds through the U.S. Mail in fraudulent schemes. Therefore, if you have been victimized in a fraudulent promotion in which the U.S. Mail was used, even if you became interested in the promotion by first receiving a telephone call, report your experience to your local postmaster or the nearest Postal Inspector.