How To Sue a Telemarketer (Book Summary)

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I’ve been getting an increasing number of telemarketing calls recently, so I readily agreed to a review copy of How To Sue a Telemarketer by Stephen Ostrow, lawyer and judge. I had a vague recollection that you can get $500 every time a telemarketer violates the Do No Call list, and was hoping there would be a quick form or template to fill out and slam these annoying folks. It turns out to be a bit more complicated than that, but the basic steps are outlined below.

Before you do anything else, you should confirm that your phone number is registered at the National Do-Not-Call Registry. While you can file a complaint at the same website, that doesn’t have nearly the bite of a lawsuit with financial penalties.

Step 1: Data Collection

When an unsolicited telemarketer calls and you think they are in violation of the law, don’t yell at them. In a conversational tone, try to extract as much of the following information as possible:

  • Name of telemarketer
  • Name of company
  • Company website
  • Company telephone number
  • Company address
  • What they are trying to sell you

Writing it all down is probably the most simply, having a recording is easier but you can’t tape a telephone conversation without notice in many states. (Here’s is a list of states with one-party consent.)

Step 2: Research and Lawsuit Initiation

Using this information, you can then research the legal names of either the company employing the telemarketer and/or the telemarketers themselves. Now you know who to sue. Next, you must file a complaint through your state’s Small Claims Court. The form is relatively simple to fill out and some templates are included in the book.

Here’s a list of potential violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA), each of which are separate. You can have been a victim of any one or a combination. Federal law allows for $500 per violation, which can be increased to $1,500 per violation if deemed” willful and intentional”.

  • Violation of Do Not Call list.
  • Pre-recorded messages (robocalls)
  • Failure of solicitor to identify themselves.
  • Failure to send the company’s Do-Not-Call policy within 30 days after demand.
  • Blocking a number on CallerID by a telephone solicitor

A third party must then serve the complaint to the defendant, usually via sheriff or process server. You’ll also need to file a Proof of Service to show that the accused was served.

Step 3: Your Day in Small Claims Court

Now that you have filed the lawsuit and the defendant has been notified, a court date will be set and you’ll actually face your defendant in court. The person who actually called you won’t be there, just some representative. Some tips about how to present your case to the court are given, but basically you want to document all the details of the call. Since this is a civil court, you just need to prove that it happened more likely than not.

While searching online, I found another success story for suing rogue telemarketers. In his case, the telemarketer actually called him up before the court date and offered him $500 upfront to settle out of court. Nice.

The most depressing part of the book was the part where I found out what calls are not covered under the Act:

  • Calls from organizations with which you’ve established a business relationship
  • Call by, or on behalf of, tax-exempt non-profit organizations including political compaigns.

So if I get service from Comcast, they can still bug me. And I’ve already decided to vote against any politician who robocalls me. Grrr.

There are many more nuances in the book that aren’t covered here. If you aren’t turned off by required footwork above, then this book may be worth a read. It does try to keep a humorous edge to it, hopefully the energy will encourage you to follow through and get some justice.

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  1. This book ought to sell well based on the title alone. If I were still getting bothered by telemarketers, I’d surely invest the time.

    Yes, registering on do not call lists is effective. What is more effective is changing your home number by getting MagicJack or something like that and never giving out that number for anything. We swtiched several years ago and it never even rings.

    By no means am I triyng to push people to get a MagicJack, just saying that this is how I eliminated telemarketers from my life

  2. Noble Drusus says

    All interesting info except they hang up after you start asking any of the questions required to sue them. Then they call back the next day, same thing. I doubt anyone could follow this process.

    99pct of the calls I’ve gotten are robocalls from blocked numbers, making this process impossible to follow.

    The only way to get them to stop calling is if they also happen to call a Senator, then action will be taken, otherwise, no one in the govt or courts will help you.

  3. I keep getting annoying recorded telemarketing calls from a carpet cleaning company that I once hired years ago to clean my carpets. Since I once hired them, does this mean I can’t sue them?

    • No. Per changes in the TCPA in 2013 they can no longer claim you have established a business relationship with them. They may now only call you IF you give them written permission.

  4. We have been on the DNC list since 2006 and it is very effective against commercial telemarketers. Unfortunately it seems that all of the third-party calling firms have shifted their client bases to charitable organizations so now they call us regularly instead. It is very annoying, particularly when they block your caller ID and call when the baby is sleeping.

    We’ve had some luck asking individual callers (charities) to place us on their organization’s do not call list when they call, but since one telemarketing firm may rep multiple charities they can call you again the next day on behalf of another organization.

    We generally never give to charities who call us up or come door to door soliciting. We give in a more targeted and concentrated manner to typically local charities whose mission we support and who we’ve researched to be sure the money is going to address the mission as effectively as possble. As such I wish we could opt out of charities telemarketing efforts as well.

  5. Other way to get out of telemarketing calls is if you say you work for a market research company. Telemarketers won’t call you back since theoretically you can skew their data.

  6. Actually, depending on the exact state you live in (one party notification), you can record the call.

  7. Not sure you noticed but the sponsored ad inserted between the post and the comments is for telemarketing jobs, at least on my screen view… lol. “www.” on the chitika box….. Beneath that is an add for freshpair underwear…. I can send a screen shot if you want….. So much for content driven marketing…..

  8. @Chris – Good to know, thanks for the link! Added to original post.

  9. If you have the name of the company, is that who you write down is the defendant? If so, does the process server just have to prove he gave the small claims notice to anybody working at the company or does it have to be somebody specific?

  10. My old college calls me all the time asking for money. Do they have to abide by the do not call registry? Since registering about a year ago, they’re the only ones who call me, but it’s annoying because each time I tell them I don’t want to be contacted again. That stops them for about a month. If I don’t pick up, they call back once a day.

  11. Robert Hicks, Sr. says

    Clarification: Recording a phone call in which you are a participant, IS LEGAL for INTRASTATE phone calls, without the other party being aware of it, in Arizona, at least. Possibly other states as well. INTERSTATE phone calls cannot legally be recorded without the other participants to the call…….being made aware that the call is being recorded.

  12. I recommend you buy a device called the T-Lock call block pro. Not a perfect solution, but you will at least have the repeaters hung up on immediately.

  13. You need to do a better job of research. You can NOT file a $500 claim for each of the violations you have listed i.e. spoofed id, failure to ID… especially for calls to landlines. Fines calls to cell phones are somewhat better. Per Charat v/ Ryan the Ohio supreme court has ruled that you may file only a $500 claim for the initial DNC violation as this is what caused “a single and distinct harm”. So, as a rule, the most you can get per call is $1500 IF the court decides to grant you triple the amount.

  14. A call blocker is the way to go. It’s a lot of work to go to court and it’s only worth it if you win. The judge can simply say no and you just wasted your day.

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