On April 2, 2020, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill into law that amends the State's Telephone Privacy Protection Act (the "Act"). The amendments to Virginia's telemarketing regulations are intended to curb caller ID spoofing and broaden the definition of what a "telephone solicitation call" is within the meaning of the statute. Additionally, the amendments increase the amount that private individuals and the Attorney General can, respectively, seek in damages and penalties.
How will the amendments affect telephone solicitations?
Amendments to Virginia Telemarketing Regulations
Spoofing is the act of modifying the caller's area code sent to, and featured on, the called party's caller ID display with the intent to, among other things, impersonate a local phone number so that the subject phone calls will be answered. The amendment to Virginia's telemarketing regulations forbids companies and individuals from engaging "in any conduct that results in the display of false or misleading caller identification information on the called person's telephone." Telemarketers must provide their telephone numbers and, if possible, their business names as part of their caller ID information. However, if third parties are acting on behalf of a seller, they can substitute the seller's name and telephone number for that of their own.
The original draft of the Act had excluded text messages from the definition of a "telephone solicitation call." The amendment adds text messages to the definition, which includes calls to both landlines and wireless numbers. A "telephone solicitation call" now includes any telemarketing call to any number with a Virginian area code (including those of both consumers and businesses) or to wireless telephones with non-Virginian area codes that are registered "to any natural person who is a resident of the Commonwealth." The broad definition increases the difficulty that telemarketers face in identifying the state residence of people and, at the same time, exposes sellers to greater liability.
The amendments to the telemarketing regulations include increased damages amounts that individuals may recover in private rights of action for violations of the Act. Individuals will now be able to recover $500 for the first violation, $1,000 for the second violation, and $5,000 for each subsequent violation. If the court finds that a willful violation of the Act has occurred, it may increase the damages for a first or second violation to an amount not exceeding $5,000. Civil penalties for actions brought by the Virginia Attorney General against telemarketers have also been increased to mirror the private right of action damage amounts set forth above.
The Virginia amendments are a good reminder that telemarketing laws are constantly changing at the state and federal level. To be safe, it is important to remember that many telemarketing-related legal risks can be minimized or even eliminated by working with an experienced telemarketing lawyer.
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