Robocalls, those persistent and intrusive calls that disrupt our daily lives, have been a bane for Americans for decades. While regulatory crackdowns have made some headway in curbing their proliferation, a new threat has emerged: ‘consent farms.’ These clandestine operations are taking advantage of unsuspecting individuals, making them unwitting victims of spam calls, even if they are on the Do Not Call list.
In this article, we delve into the alarming rise of ‘consent farms,’ how they operate, and most importantly, how you can protect yourself from becoming a target.
The Deceptive World of Robocalls
Most of us are familiar with robocalls pitching everything from debt consolidation to Medicare assistance, auto warranties, and student loan relief. These calls are not just annoying; they often lead to people paying for services they neither want nor need. Despite the widespread hatred for these calls, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that the Do Not Call list has over 246 million phone numbers on it, nearly equal to the entire adult population of the United States.
In response to this, regulatory bodies like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have made efforts to combat these spam calls. Caller ID spoofing prevention standards have been implemented, resulting in a decrease in the number of illegal calls, particularly from offshore call centers targeting American consumers. The FTC has also been active in investigating spam-calling networks, filing lawsuits, and imposing substantial fines.
The Rise of ‘Consent Farms’
However, as regulators clamp down on traditional robocalls, spam callers are evolving. Some telecom providers have found a way to maintain access to US networks by exploiting a seemingly foolproof strategy: obtaining spurious “consents” from websites that deceive users into agreeing to be contacted by telemarketers, even if their number is on the Do Not Call list.
These deceitful websites, known as ‘consent farms,’ often present themselves as job-search or comparison-shopping platforms. They lure users in with promises of freebies, gift cards, or job opportunities in exchange for personal information.
The catch? Critical details are hidden in the fine print or omitted altogether. Job listings might be expired, or you may need to spend money to claim a promised gift card. The real kicker is that by innocently clicking a button that seems to contain nothing more than legal jargon, you’ve unwittingly agreed to receive calls and texts from a myriad of spammy businesses.
Fighting Back Against Consent Farms
The fight against ‘consent farms’ is not an easy one. Many individuals, like Kelly Pinn, have found themselves inundated with spam calls. Unlike most, Pinn decided to take legal action against those responsible. Her case is a perfect example of how ‘consent farms’ operate.
Pinn received multiple spam calls, including one offering debt relief, despite being on the Do Not Call list. Her lawyer has been vigorously pursuing those responsible. In Pinn’s case, it was claimed that she consented to calls by filling out a form on HealthInstantly.org, a website connected to a person named Chad Smanjak, who had links to a massive student-loan robocalling operation. The website featured a lengthy disclosure paragraph with a link to a list of around 5,400 “marketing partners” and a “Compare Quotes” button.
The lawyer asserts that Pinn never gave consent for any of these companies to contact her, and he’s still in the process of identifying who’s truly at fault. These deceptive practices have rightfully caused outrage among consumers and legal experts alike. ‘Consent farms’ are not just an invasion of privacy; they are fraudulent enterprises that profit from deceit.
The Regulatory Battle
Regulators, including the FTC, refer to websites like HealthInstantly.org as ‘consent farms.’ The FCC, in particular, has been critical of such operations. Urth Access, an Austin-based company that made illegal robocalls, claimed to have gained consent through health insurance websites using the same “marketing partners” link buried in a boilerplate disclosure. The FCC deemed this practice insufficient to demonstrate consent and challenged the authenticity of such claims.
Consent farms essentially function as intermediaries in a two-sided market. On one side are affiliate marketers who drive traffic to these websites, and on the other are buyers—some legitimate, some not—who pay for leads. Fluent, Inc., a publicly traded company, recently settled an FTC case for $2.5 million, acknowledging its role in misleading users. The FTC alleged that a substantial portion of Fluent’s revenue in 2018 and 2019 came from selling consents.
Hope on the Horizon
Despite the challenges, there is hope that consent farming, and the spam it fuels, can be dismantled. Rigorous regulation and enforcement led to a significant reduction in auto warranty robocalls when the FTC imposed a $300 million fine on the major culprits. Spam related to student loans also declined, and overall robocalls have decreased by approximately 40% over the past year. However, Americans still received a staggering 5 billion robocalls and 11.8 billion spam texts in July alone.
The persistence of these annoying calls and texts highlights the ongoing battle against spam. Scammers constantly adapt and devise new schemes, such as consent farming, to evade regulatory measures.
Protecting Yourself from Robocall Deception
So, what can you do to protect yourself from falling victim to robocall deception? Here are some actionable steps:
- Stay Informed: Keep yourself updated on the latest developments in robocall scams and tactics.
- Read the Fine Print: Always scrutinize the terms and conditions before providing your information on any website.
- Block Suspected Numbers: If you receive a suspicious call, block the number immediately.
- Report Violations: If you believe your rights have been violated, report the incident to the FTC and your phone service provider.
- Use Call Screening Services: Explore call screening apps and services that can help filter out unwanted calls.
- Consider Legal Action: If you’ve suffered due to robocall deception, consult with a legal expert to explore your options.
Robocall deception is a pervasive issue, but with awareness, vigilance, and the right measures, you can protect yourself from falling prey to these unscrupulous tactics. Remember that you have rights, and there are legal professionals dedicated to combating robocall abuse.
Ready to Put an End to Robocall Deception?
If you’ve been a victim of robocall deception or want to ensure you’re protected from these invasive practices, we’re here to help. Our experienced legal team specializes in consumer rights and privacy protection.
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During this consultation, we’ll:
- Assess Your Situation: Understand your specific experience with robocalls and consent farms.
- Explain Your Rights: Clarify your legal rights and how they apply to your case.
- Discuss Potential Remedies: Explore possible legal actions to seek justice and compensation.
Don’t let robocall deception disrupt your life. Take the first step towards reclaiming your privacy by calling us for free consultation today. Put an end to unwanted spam calls and protect your rights. We’re here to fight for you!
Source: How ‘consent farms’ turn one click on a website into an open invitation for spammers to blow up your phone with robocalls | INSIDER