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You Be the Judge: Is this Use of a Predictive Dialer Illegal?

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May 14, 2012

You Be the Judge: Is this Use of a Predictive Dialer Illegal?

By Jamie Epstein, TMCnet Web Editor

A predictive dialer is a computer-based dialing system that has the ability to make quick multiple outbound calls, pulling from a database of phone numbers that connect to a variety of communication and telephone lines. The configuration and the amount of agents using this system will affect how many calls the dialer places per hour.

Predictive dialers use statistical algorithms to greatly cut the amount of time agents spend waiting between conversations, while almost completely eliminating the chance of someone answering when no agent is available to speak to them.

Seems like a great solution, right? It could greatly increase efficiency in any business or call center while simultaneously reducing costs. Some people, however, are using this technology in ways not originally intended.

Since Telephone Consumer Protect Act or TCPA deems it illegal for advertisers, bill collectors or anyone else from calling your mobile phone without preapproval using a predictive dialer, what are your thoughts on the below example that was first featured in a recent article?

A customer incurs a debt and does not pay. The creditor hires a bill collector to receive the owed funds from the customer. The bill collector then sets up a machine (a predictive dialer) to complete the job and repeatedly calls a cell number that the customer had already agreed to receive phone calls by giving his number to creditor.

“The predictive dialer works autonomously until a human voice comes on the line,” the piece stated. “If that happens, an employee in bill collector’s call center will join the call. But customer no longer subscribes to cell number, which has been reassigned to a bystander. While a human being who called the number would realize that the specific customer was no longer the subscriber, these dialers lack human intelligence and, like the buckets enchanted by the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, continue until stopped by their true master. Meanwhile, the bystander is out of pocket the cost of the airtime minutes and has had to listen to a lot of useless voicemail.”

The bystanders in the above scenario are Teresa Soppet and Loidy Tang who sued collections company Enhanced Recovery for the countless voicemails the organization left, in addition to the company increasing their bills. Although the calls were meant for other people who once were assigned these mobile numbers, Enhanced Recovery fought that it didn’t need permission from Soppet and Tang because this was given from the original mobile owners.

Did you guess the outcome of this trial? Yes, the Seventh Circuit panel unanimously agreed that consent doesn’t move from mobile carrier to carrier even if they possess the same numbers.

“Borrower agrees with bank, as a condition of a loan, that bank can enter borrower’s garage and repossess his car if he does not keep current on payments,” said Judge Easterbrook in regard to the decision. “After signing this contract, borrower sells his house, moves, does not tell bank his new address and defaults on the loan. Can bank now enter the garage of the house where borrower used to live and seize the car the repo men find there? Surely not. Borrower can consent to an entry on his own land and the use of his own car as collateral, but he can’t consent to an entry on anyone else’s land or the seizure of someone else’s property.”

The lawsuit is now headed back down to federal district court where a monetary settlement will be decided upon.

Edited by Braden Becker

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