IRS Debt Collectors and Ringless Voicemail

You are walking through your favorite store. Baby kale is on sale this week and the line caught salmon looks fresh. You check off one more item on your smartphone and you notice an unheard voice message in your voicemail box. Were you supposed to get more milk? You check your message and there is a voicemail even though your phone didn’t ring. Is something wrong with your phone? Maybe not. And then you notice there is more than one voice message waiting. What’s going on? Ringless Voicemail.

It is an automated voice message that uses a new technology that bypasses the ring on your phone. No ring, no buzz. And what some are trying to argue, is not a call. Just an automated voice message. Selling you something.

Ringless voice messaging technology has been around for more than 10 years. It was intended to be a nonintrusive way for medical offices, banks, or other time sensitive marketers to leave voice messages without disturbing their customers. Industry insiders calls this responsible marketing. Providing an extra layer of service to inform a patient or client of an appointment or other time sensitive information. What was originally a technology that was developed for responsible marketers and non nuisance use cases has quickly become a tool for abuse and harassment.

What is becoming clear is that these automated calls are the number one source of complaints by far according to the FCC. Recently, there has even been a lawsuit filed against an auto dealership abusing this technology. Few people would categorize a car dealer as a responsible marketer like a dentist or a physician.

The FCC has closed the filing of public comments to the ruling back in June. The FCC does not officially comment on open rulings. The tensions for this is getting rather high as the stakes are rising even faster.

If the FCC rules that these voice messages are not phone calls, the messages do not need to follow the same rules as telephone calls. This means they do not need to adhere to the Consumer Rights Act of 1991 and abide by the rules of the National Do Not Call Registry.

Currently, the FCC sees this as a gray area. This is why the ruling is so important.

If the FCC rules in favor of the consumers, then these automated calls would have to follow the same rules as the National Do Not Call registry. Marketers could not leave messages on mobile phone numbers nor could they leave messages for home phone numbers on the Do Not Call Registry. Only in the cases where the consumer has given consent for telephone calls from a marketer or there is a previously established relationship.

If the FCC rules in favor of the marketers and the software companies, then these voice messages would not be constituted as calls since the phone never rings. Currently, there are no laws or rules in place saying how many voice messages you can leave anyone regarding any particular content.

What consumer advocacy groups are concerned about is that Debt Collectors, student loan lenders, and literally any other marketing company could leave as many voice messages as they want in an attempt to collect a debt or sell a product. As in the case of payday loan products.

The case of the lawsuit against the auto dealership, 4 voice messages in one day may not seem that extreme. Considering some of these automated voice message systems can leave up to 100 voice messages an hour. The software development is only expanding.

Technology already exists that can block phone numbers or “blocked” calls. This is available through your mobile phone carrier. Less than responsible marketers who do not follow any FCC guidelines are known to spoof telephone numbers. This means they can use any unsuspecting person’s phone number and make hundreds of marketing calls making it appear that they are a local person. This sort of nuisance does not yet have a solution as of yet.

The threat of debt collectors using this technology and exploiting this loophole could be damaging. There is currently no limit to the amount of voice messages a marketer or collector can send. And no limit to the types of companies that can use such software.

Legislators can foresee the need for quick and sweeping laws to combat this backdoor in cell phone companies telecommunications system. Both consumers and lawmakers alike are supportive of a FCC recommendation that would close this loophole. This would eliminate the current gray area of a voice message and keep consumers safe from the potential for abuse of this technology.

If you receive calls a tax related direct to voicemail call, please let us know. Some companies, such as Larson Tax Relief, call people and businesses who have tax liens. If they start using this technology we would like to know about it.