WASHINGTON - More than 1 million people have complained to the Federal Trade Commission that annoying telemarketing calls haven't stopped -- even after they've registered with the do-not-call registry. Apparently, someone listened. On Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission announced that DirecTV Inc. will pay $5.35 million to settle charges that it violated the federal do-not-call list.
The penalty is the largest-ever for a consumer protection case, the FTC said in a statement.
The announcement comes one day after another public black eye for the satellite TV provider. On Monday, DirecTV agreed to pay $5 million to settle charges brought by 22 state attorneys general that the firm deceived customers and engaged in misleading advertising.
After announcing the do-not-call case settlement, FTC Chairwoman Deborah Platt Majoras said that "thousands" of consumers complained that they received telephone solicitations for DirecTV after they signed up with the federal do-not-call list, which went into effect in October 2003. So far, 110 million people have signed up on the list, and the agency has received 1.4 million complaints.
"It isn't named 'Do-Not-Call' for nothing," Majoras said.
In its complaint, the FTC alleged that DirecTV hired several third-party marketing firms, which placed the telemarketing calls. As part of the settlement, DirecTV agreed to discontinue the unwanted phone calls. It did not admit wrongdoing.
In a statement, DirecTV said the third-party firms in question were acting in contradiction to DirecTV policies.
"The complaints the FTC received related to telemarketing calls placed by a small number of former independent retailers, who ignored DirecTV policies prohibiting unauthorized telemarketing," the statement said. "DirecTV has agreed to continue to closely monitor independent retailers to ensure that their telemarketing practices comply with the law."
But the FTC, in its complaint, alleges that DirecTV "knew or consciously avoided knowing" that do not call violations were occurring.
"DirecTV was getting complaints, but they were rather ignoring them," Majoras said. "The telemarketers failed to scrub their lists with the do not call list."
Hiring third-party firms to place telemarketing calls or send spam is a common tactic employed to distance reputable firms from the unpopular marketing strategies. But Majoras said companies cannot absolve themselves from the behavior of their hired hands.
"Companies cannot hide behind their affiliates," she said. "This is core to this case. It's a signal that companies cannot hide behind their telemarketers."
The FTC is pursuing other cases against do-not-call violations, she said, but declined to name the companies.
A host of other companies are also named in the FTC complaint, including California-based Global Satellite, Ohio-based D.R.D. Inc., and Florida-based Nomrah Records. DirecTV supplied customer contact lists to D.R.D., the complaint said. Meanwhile, Global Satellite was accused of playing recorded messages to call recipients, in violation of a federal law requiring marketing firms to connect consumers to telemarketers within 2 seconds of a call connection.