On November 1, 2016, the FTC announced a new settlement with a group of companies known by the brand, “Consumer Education Group” operating primarily from Colorado and California. Most of the 2.34 million dollar fine was suspended due to the defendants’ inability to pay, although they were required to come up with $100,000 as a civil penalty.
The defendants used lead generation websites and landing pages to collect numerous consumer phone numbers and, they argued, consent to make future marketing calls. The FTC took issue, however, because the companies who would call did not use any name that the consumer would have recognized as one to which they had given permission. Federal agencies certainly allow for “written” consent to be obtained online, if done properly, but this case emphasizes the risk in not identifying on the consent form the specific names of the companies who will call. The defendants called to market various products, including solar, reverse-mortgage and walk-in tubs, for example. While the nature of some of these products was explained on the consent forms, the specific brands who would call were not. The defendants called over 2 million numbers on the national DNC list; many of the calls were autodialed calls, the FTC alleged. The defendants gauged interest and qualified the leads and then sold such “opt in” leads to a variety of third parties who made subsequent sales calls based on the earlier (allegedly illegal) qualification calls.
Many marketers today use online lead generation techniques, or purchase consent leads collected from online lead generators. Marketers should ensure that the calling party (or parties) are listed by name in such web consent forms. Otherwise, agencies like the FTC will likely not treat such consent as proper written consent for the subsequent marketing calls. Written consent must be marketer/seller specific.