- Background and Consumers Usage---
- Registry Compliance for Telemarketers and Sellers ---
- How to Access and Use the Registry ---
- Additional Expectations and Best Practices ---
Disclaimer: The following article is only provided as a general overview. It may not necessarily include or be up to date with all the related requirements or apply to all situations. It is also not intended as legal advice. We recommend you do additional reading and carefully review the topic using FTC and FCC resources as such this article, these FAQs, and this regulation text.
Background and Consumers Usage
The National Do Not Call Registry is part of the broader Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) regulation. It was created by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and went into effect in 2003 to help consumers deal with unwanted sales calls. It lists residential and private mobile phone numbers whose owners opted out of receiving telemarketing calls.
Consumers can add their numbers to the registry for free on this web page or by calling 1-888-382-1222 from the number they want to add. It may take up to 31 days for the registration to become effective as this is the time frame telemarketers have for updating their telemarketing phone lists.
After 31 days consumers should expect telemarketing calls only if they have provided written consent to do so or from companies who they already had an existing business relationship with.
How Effective is the Registry?
The registry is not a tool for blocking telemarketing calls but it allows consumers to file complaints against companies who still contact them with sales calls after their registration.
It does create deterrence for real companies who could be subject to heavy fines for placing sales calls to numbers on the registry.
The problem is that illegitimate parties who aim to scam consumers will ignore the registry and hide their true identity, making it very difficult for consumers to report, especially when scammers operate and call from overseas.
So registering could help with reducing the number of robocalls and unwanted telemarketing calls, but consumers still have to be proactive and should use call blocking and labeling options such as the ones listed here or here.
Registry Compliance for Telemarketers and Sellers
Telemarketing calls are only allowed to numbers not listed on the National Do Not Call Registry or to consumers that your company already had an existing business relationship with.
You can also call consumers on the registry if they gave you express written consent to do so. The consent needs to include the phone number to which calls may be made and the consumer's valid physical or electronic signature.
A business relationship lasts for up to 18 months after the consumer’s last purchase, last delivery, or last payment for goods or services. A business relationship is also established for 3 months from the day a consumer makes any inquiry or submits an application. In any case, during the business relationship period you must stop calling if the consumer makes a specific request to do so.
You must also stop calling when a consumer specifically requests it even if he is not listed on the registry. In other words, in addition to accessing the national registry you also need to maintain your company’s own do not call list.
Business-to-business calls are generally exempt from the National Do Not Call Registry. But business calls related to retail sales of nondurable office or cleaning supplies (anything that must be replaced when depleted) are not exempt and must comply with the TSR.
Political, charitable, debt collection, informational, and survey calls are also allowed if they are placed directly by an organization, but not if they are handled by a contractor who provides telemarketing services.
Non-profit organizations are also exempt, but their non-profit status needs to be determined by the FTC itself. Recognition of such status by other government offices may not be applicable! Agents and contractors who act on behalf of non-profit organizations are not exempt.
Potential Implications for Lack of Compliance
If you call someone on the registry without his written consent or without having a prior business relationship and he files a complaint, your phone number could be flagged for spam (read about spam flagging here), the FTC may sue you, and you may be subject to some heavy fines that could go up to tens of thousands of dollars per violation!
Note that without valid access to the registry, you may be subject to fines even if you call numbers not on the registry! Simply put, if you make any telemarketing or sales calls you must register and comply with the registry.
How to Access and Use the Registry
You can see the FTC's FAQs for accessing and using the registry here.
Access and Passwords
To access the registry as a telemarketer or a seller go to telemarketing.donotcall.gov and select Register to create a new account and receive a Subscription Account Number (SAN). Be ready to provide your company's name and address; your Employer Identification Number (EIN); and the name, telephone number, and email address of a contact person. If you already have an existing account select Log in.
If you use a third-party telemarketer to handle your sales calls you still need to have your own subscription and SAN with the registry. The telemarketer may have his own separate subscription and SAN but can also access phone numbers and area codes directly from your subscription.
You will be shown an Organization ID and two passwords – Representative and Downloader. You need to note these as they will not be emailed to you. You will only receive a confirmation email with a link to activate your account. Use the Representative password to log in.
The Representative password grants access to all functions of the registry including downloading numbers and managing profiles, subscriptions, and clients (telemarketers or service providers you hire). It also allows changing passwords.
The Downloader password only allows downloading phone numbers and contacting the help desk.
Subscription and Fees
Once you created an account and logged in you can subscribe to individual area codes, states, or to the entire registry.
The registry covers area codes for all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, North Mariana Islands, American Samoa, and toll-free numbers (500, 800, 866, 877, 880, 881, 882, and 888).
The first five area codes are free to download. An annual fee of $75 per area code is charged for each additional area code when you set up the subscription (exempt organizations do not need to pay the fee.) If you add more area codes later during the subscription period the fee is reduced to $69 or $35.
Your SAN will be issued only once your first subscription is processed (and paid for) which may take up to three business days. Subscriptions are valid for twelve months counting from the first day of the month the subscription started.
After your subscription is processed you can download files once in any 24-hour period for area codes, states, or the entire registry.
Downloaded files need to be uncompressed using software that can handle zipped files. If your uncompression software doesn't recognize the file, rename it with a .ZIP file extension.
The file size of the full registry is about 5GB (600MB compressed). The average state is 90MB (11MB compressed), and the average area code is 15MB(2MB compressed).
Getting Updates and Online Search
You are required to download updated versions of the registry at least every 31 days. To assist you with updates you will get email notifications about Change List file availability – a file that only contains telephone numbers relevant to your subscription that have been added to or deleted from the National Registry since the last time you performed a download.
Subscribers can also quickly check 10 telephone numbers per area code (and a total of 100 numbers per web session) using an online search tool instead of downloading files.
Once you downloaded your files you need to implement a system to find and remove registry phone numbers from your active telemarketing lists. This may be possible with a feature of your CRM application or some functions of spreadsheet software. But If you cannot set up such a system yourself there are commercial solutions you can use instead. Look online for "do not call software".
Your system also needs to work with the Change List updates, removing new numbers that appear in it. You may add numbers that were marked as deleted (from the Change List and the registry) back to your telemarketing lists.
To protect yourself in case of inadvertently calling a number on the registry you need to have written procedures showing compliance with the registry requirements, train your staff in those procedures, monitor and enforce compliance, and maintain your own company-specific do-not-call list for consumers who directly request you do not call them (even if they are not on the registry).
Additional Expectations and Best Practices
Besides complying with the registry you are expected to exercise some best practices and Telemarketing Sales Rule requirements whenever placing or receiving telemarketing calls. Not doing so may get consumers to file complaints resulting in possible flagging of your telephone numbers or other actions carried out.
Remember that many states also have laws regulating telemarketing that you need to consider and apply.
Some of these requirements and best practices include but are not limited to:
- Respect quiet hours – don't call a consumer before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. in his local time, unless you have his permission to do so.
- Be clear and transparent about any terms of your offer – don't use any deceptive, vague, abusive, or misleading language. Disclose all material information about the goods or services offered and the terms of the sale. Accurately describe the performance, efficacy, nature, or central characteristics of the goods or services offered
- Provide all relevant details – you need to allow the consumer to make an informed decision about whether to buy goods or services or make a donation including cost and quantity, restrictions, limitations or conditions, liabilities, and refund/cancellation/exchange policies.
- Explain any possible actions required by the consumer – if there are certain actions regarding the transaction, like canceling a free trial before a certain date to avoid a charge, make sure the consumer is well aware of them.
- Don't use certain payment methods – avoid asking for payments by cash-to-cash wire transfer (like Western Union and MoneyGram), by asking for the PIN from a cash reload card (like MoneyPak and Vanilla Reload), or by asking the consumer to create a type of check or money order that requires no signature (these are known as “remotely created check/payment order”).
- Get clear permission to charge the provided payment method – inform the consumer about the amount and timing of the initial and any reoccurring charges.
- Do not hide your telephone number/caller ID – if applicable, also provide your business/organization name. You can read about how to make sure your number is not hidden here.
- Inform the consumer about the nature of the call – you are expected to tell the consumer right away that the call is a sales call or a charitable solicitation.
- Tell the consumer who you represent – if you do telemarketing on behalf of someone else, tell the consumer right away what seller or charitable organization you work for.
- Understand upselling practices – be aware that even if a telemarketing transaction is exempt from some TSR requirements (like when a consumer called you), upselling is not! Upselling is defined as trying to sell additional goods or services during a single phone call, after an initial transaction.
- Avoid robocalling/prerecorded telemarketing messages – don't call any consumer with a prerecorded telemarketing message (robocalling) without his express written agreement to receive such a call, even if he is not on the National Do Not Call Registry. You must provide an interactive opt-out mechanism with the prerecorded message that automatically adds the consumer's number to your own Do Not Call list.
- Keep records – keep any transaction information, written or oral agreements, charge authorization, and records of your telemarketing activity for at least 24 months.
Depeding on state law, if you need to make any recording of a conversation with a consumer to obtain agreements or charge authorization (or for any other purpose) you may first need to request the consumer's permission to make the recording before it begins. To be on the safe side always inform a consumer about a recording.
Text Messaging Requirements
While there isn't a National Do Not Text Registry, what applies is the FCC's Telephone Consumer Protection Act that, among other things, requires getting express and clear written consent for texting a consumer. You can read more about the TCPA and CTIA Messaging Principles and Best Practices here.