Telemarketing is an important tool used by many businesses to generate revenues, but it can also expose consumers to misinformation and fraud. That’s why Texas lawmakers passed important consumer protection laws that explicitly prohibit false, misleading, or deceptive practices. One such law is the Texas Telephone Solicitation Act, which regulates attempts by companies to sell or rent property, products, or services to consumers via telephone solicitation. The law is part of the Texas Business and Commerce Code, which protects consumers against a wide range of fraudulent business practices. The section of the statute governing telephone solicitations is meant to protect purchasers against false, misleading, or deceptive practices on sales calls. When a company makes a sales call, they must abide by the guidelines set forth in the statute. This includes filing a registration statement that contains relevant sales information, as well as making required disclosures to purchasers during telephone solicitations about both the company and the items for sale.
To learn more about the Texas Telephone Solicitation Act and the protections it affords consumers, keep reading this blog.
What Is the Texas Telephone Solicitation Act?
The Telephone Solicitation Act is codified in Texas Bus. & Com. Code, Title 10, Subtitle A, Chapter 302. The statute defines a “telephone solicitation” as a telephone call that is initiated to induce someone to buy, rent, claim, or receive an item. Importantly, the Texas law also covers phone calls made by consumers in response to a solicitation that was sent electronically (e.g., an email) or physically (e.g., a letter in the mail). Moreover, the law applies to calls placed manually, calls initiated by an automatic dialing machine, and calls that involve a recorded messaging device.
Telephone Solicitation Registration Requirements in Texas
The requirements of the Texas Telephone Solicitation Act are strictly enforced, with any violation by a telemarketer possibly triggering both civil and criminal penalties. The statute imposes requirements on companies both during the registration process and when the phone solicitation is made.
Seller Disclosures at Registration
Before making a telephone solicitation, sellers must first fill out a Telephone Solicitation Registration Statement and obtain a registration certificate for their business. Moreover, the registration statement must list each telephone number that will be used by the seller, as well as the specific locations from which any phone solicitations will be made. Other sales information that must be disclosed in the statement includes a copy of all telephone solicitation scripts and other material provided to salespersons, a copy of any written material that might be sent to consumers, and the contact information for outside product suppliers.
The registration statement is filed with the Texas Secretary of State, and it must identify each principal of the seller: owners, executive officers, general partners, trustees, etc. The registration certificate is valid for one year, and it must be renewed annually. Additionally, for every three-month period after the certificate was issued, the business must provide information for each salesperson who solicited on behalf of the business.
One of the most important requirements imposed by the Telephone Solicitation Act is the security requirement: sellers must submit a security deposit in the amount of $10,000. The deposit is meant to ensure that the seller complies with the law. When a seller is found to have violated the statute, the deposit may be used as payment for any penalties imposed by the court.
Seller Disclosures on the Call
In addition to requiring disclosures in the registration statement filed with the state, the Texas Telephone Solicitation Act also compels companies to make certain disclosures to consumers before a purchase is made through a phone solicitation. For example, prior to the finalization of any transaction on a sales call, the seller must provide the consumer with the street address of the building or office from which the call is being made. Additionally, if the seller tells the consumer that the item is being offered at a reduced price, the seller must provide the name of the manufacturer. Along those same lines, if the seller represents that one of the items is a gift or prize, then they also need to clearly state the contest rules.
The Telephone Solicitation Act also places a significant limitation on exactly what telemarketers are allowed to say during a sales call: the caller is not allowed to state or otherwise reference their supposed compliance with the statute. The idea behind this restriction is that sellers should not be able to discourage consumers from investigating on their own to determine whether a seller violated the law by making a deceptive sales call.
How to File a Civil Lawsuit Against a Telemarketer in Texas
Consumers who are defrauded, scammed, or otherwise injured by a telemarketer’s violation of the Telephone Solicitation Act can take legal action. Experienced Texas consumer fraud lawyers know just how strong the statute’s protections are, and they also know how to navigate the legal system to hold businesses accountable for violating the law.
One option available to consumers is to file a civil suit against the company or person who made the sales call. Any individual who suffered economic losses due to a seller breaching an agreement that was entered into during a telephone solicitation may be eligible to recover financial compensation against the seller’s security deposit with the state. It might also be possible for consumers to bring a claim under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA) because a violation of the Telephone Solicitation Act qualifies as a violation of the DTPA. Additionally, a person bringing a civil action under either statute may be entitled to compensation for reasonable attorney’s fees and related legal expenses.
Burden of Proof
The protections set forth in the Texas Telephone Solicitation Act are far-reaching and tend to be interpreted broadly by judges. In fact, the statute even stipulates that the burden of proof in these cases will be on the defendant accused of violating the law. For example, in civil proceedings where the defendant argues that they are exempt from the law, the burden of proving the exemption will fall on the defendant. Similarly, a company or individual who faces criminal charges for violating the telephone solicitation law is required to produce evidence supporting their defense that they are exempt from the statute.
Which Sellers Are Exempt from the Texas Telephone Solicitation Act?
Some sellers accused of violating the Telephone Solicitation Act may be able to argue that the consumer protection law does not apply to them, but only in certain situations. Those who may be exempt from the statute include agents of publicly traded companies, sellers for banks or other supervised financial institutions, anyone associated with companies regulated by the Public Utility Commission of Texas, individuals who are already subject to regulation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and educational institutions or nonprofit organizations that are exempt from taxation by the IRS. In many instances, exemption from the Telephone Solicitation Act is possible because another law or regulation applies instead and takes precedence.
The Texas Business and Commerce Code also includes explicit exemptions from the phone solicitation law for the following categories of sellers:
- Anyone selling a subscription to a newspaper, magazine, or cable television service.
- Anyone selling items to a consumer who has consented in advance to receiving periodic deliveries of those items.
- Individuals or companies delivering catalogs that are distributed in at least one other state and that have a circulation of at least 250,000 customers.
- Anyone selling items to a business that plans to resell the items.
- Persons or companies attempting to sell food products.
- Persons calling about maintenance or repair of an item that was previously purchased from them.
- Businesses soliciting a former or current customer.
Criminal and Civil Penalties Imposed by the Texas Telephone Solicitation Act
Every individual violation of a provision in the Texas Telephone Solicitation Act is considered a separate offense, which means that the penalties can add up very quickly even when the offenses stem from a single sales call. Beyond that, there can be both civil and criminal penalties imposed against sellers who violate the statute.
Violations that may be charged as criminal offenses include failing to obtain the necessary registration certificate before making a phone solicitation, failing to make necessary disclosures to the consumer before finalizing a sale, and mentioning compliance with the statute on the sales call. Each of these offenses can be charged as a class A misdemeanor, which carries a possible fine of $4,000 and a sentence of up to one year in jail. Moreover, these criminal penalties can be imposed against both the business owner and the salesperson or telemarketer who made the call. Additionally, the defendant in a criminal action may be ordered to pay the costs of prosecuting the case, including the attorney general’s expenses for the investigation, depositions, witnesses, and related attorney’s fees.
Sellers who violate a provision in the Texas Telephone Solicitation Act are also subject to civil penalties. These penalties can be substantial, with the statute calling for a fine of up to $5,000 for each violation. The penalties become even harsher when the seller violates an injunction brought by the secretary of state for a previous offense: a $25,000 fine for each subsequent violation, plus an additional $50,000 fine for all violations after the injunction was issued.
Contact the Texas Consumer Protection Lawyers at Tauler Smith LLP
Did you receive a telemarketing call from a person who failed to identify themselves, their business, or their reason for calling? Did the telemarketer’s attempts to sell you something feel like part of a scam? The Texas Telephone Solicitation Act gives consumers the ability to take legal action by notifying the secretary of state and possibly filing a civil suit, and the Texas consumer protection attorneys at Tauler Smith LLP can help you.