Federal law makes telemarketers pay for junk phone calls

For the last two years, Haynie Smith has spent a lot of time trying to shake one persistent telemarketer.

"I blocked the number they were originally calling from, but some way they were still getting to my voicemail," Smith said.

No matter what this Milwaukee man did, those calls kept coming.

On the other end of the line was online school, Ashford University, although Smith has no idea how they got his number.

"I don't remember how I encountered them or how they encountered me. I just remember them calling," Smith said.

After about 20 of those calls, sometimes two a day, Smith says he told Ashford to just stop calling.

It's a pattern described in a federal lawsuit filed last month by Smith against Ashford University.

It says around July 2015, Smith told Ashford to stop calling, but the calls kept coming.

Even after Smith's lawyer sent Ashford a letter in December 2017, the calls did not stop.

Craig Kimmel is Smith's attorney. He says telemarketers are required to stop calling when you ask them to.

"It's like the person who knocks on your door or rings your bell and runs. You know you can tell them to stop and they have to stop and then it's unlawful if they don't," Kimmel said.

Based in Pennsylvania, Kimmel takes cases like this from consumers across the country.

He found himself in Milwaukee because of the sheer number of calls involved -- more than 300.

Kimmel believes every call from Ashford dating back to 2015 violated federal law.

"Even after they received our letter in early January they continued to call. We have the proof that they received our letter and we have the proof that they continued to call," he said.

Since 1991, people have been protected from junk phone calls by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

It limits when a solicitor can call, requires them to obey a "do not call" list, forbids automated or pre-recorded calls and makes a solicitor quit calling the moment you say "stop."

As Haynie Smith showed us, those calls were still coming as recently as a couple weeks ago.

Those calls are now saved as voicemails, potential evidence in his case.

In an e-mailed statement, a spokesperson for Ashford University said it complies with the TCPA and intends to "vigorously contest the allegations in Mr. Smith's complaint."

Under TCPA, violators can be made to pay anywhere from $500 to $1500 per phone call.

In a case like Smith's, with more than 300 potential violations, he could win more than $150,000.

Craig Kimmel says lawsuits and damages are the only way to get some callers to stop.

"Companies will keep calling and calling and calling until you give them a reason not to," he said.

Click here for more information on TCPA.

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