Ringless Voicemail Drops: Legal or Not?

Ringless Voicemail Drops

Ringless voicemail drops have increasingly become popular with collection agencies and telemarketers in the last couple of years. It generates mixed reactions from people as there are people who see it as an invasion of their privacy, while others have no problem with the technology.

But, What Exactly Is A Ringless Voicemail Drop?

A Ringless voicemail drop is a term used to describe a method in which a pre-recorded audio message is placed into a telephone’s voicemail inbox without that telephone ringing.

How Does a Ringless Voicemail Drop Appear on a Phone?

There are two main ways that a Ringless voicemail drop can happen:

  • One way is by dialing the same number twice at the same time. The result of this is that one of the numbers will go directly into voicemail, while the other gets disconnected. However, there is always a slim chance that a missed call alert will appear on the phone.
  • The other way is by calling a number provided by a telephone carrier company that gives you access to a subscriber’s voicemail server space. Carriers don’t usually provide these numbers to agencies; debt collection or telemarketing companies so as to restrict them from calling people.

How Ringless Voicemail Works?

Ringless voicemail works by delivering a pre-recorded message to a prospect’s phone by loading the voicemail directly onto the prospect’s voicemail server bypassing the normal process which involves dialing, ringing, and then leaving a voicemail after beeping on the phone.

Is Ringless Voicemail Legal or Not?

Any attempt to answer this question involves understanding the technology that makes this process possible. The normal way of leaving a voicemail is done by calling a number and after a set duration there is no answer, the phone prompts you to leave a voicemail after a beep.

Here’s the thing. Ringless voicemail uses technology to leave a voicemail on a prospect’s phone using a back door. It uses a technology referred to as Adaptive Signaling technology which causes the message to be sent directly to the voicemail service provider’s enhanced service platform; this a voicemail server space that is assigned to the user’s phone number.

Note that voicemail messages are not stored on the user’s physical phone but rather on its server space managed by the phone carrier. This is what makes it possible for the technology to be able to deliver a voicemail to a phone without the user’s phone ringing. Once the voicemail has successfully been delivered to the server space assigned to that particular phone number, the phone user then receives a notification informing them that they have received a new voicemail message.

Ringless voicemails are not legal. Unless of course, you had provided them with legal consent authorizing them to make telemarketing calls to your phone, which in that case the telemarketing company must then provide you with an easy mechanism of allowing you to opt-out at any given time.

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Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) 

The TCPA act prohibits any person within the United States of America from “making any call…. using any automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or pre-recorded voice…… to any telephone act number assigned to a paging service, cellular telephone service……. or any service, for which the called party is charged for the call.”
However, telemarketers and collection agencies have always kept insisting that Ringless voicemails aren’t phone calls under the law; 47 U.S.C & 227 (b), (1), (A) (iii).

In the case Saunders Vs Dyck O’Neal, US District Judge Gordon J. Quist of the U.S District Court, Western District of Michigan on the 16th of July, 2018, ruled in favor of the consumer, stating that a Ringless Voicemail message (RVM) is a ‘call’ regulated by the TCPA.  He looked into the common meaning of the verb ‘to call’ and found out that the word ‘call’ means to communicate with or try to get into communication with a person by a telephone.  He also noted that the plaintiff had received the notifications and listened to the voicemails on her phone and therefore the end result was the same, regardless of whether her phone had rang before the voicemail was left. Click here to access the TCPA website.

Federal Communication Commission on Ringless Voicemail

The FCC has yet to offer an opinion on the legality of Ringless voicemail; whether this technology constitutes a ‘call’ governed by the TCPA. It has also not made any specific regulations regarding Ringless Voicemails (RVM).

There have been a number of attempts by different organizations most notably, all about the Message, LLC in 2017 and VoApps in 2014, who both filed petitions with the FCC seeking a declaratory ruling that the RVM technology was not under TCPA regulations. However, both organizations withdrew the petitions prior to a ruling, due to public outcry and opposition.

At the time of publication of this article, no notice of appeal has been filed and the FCC has so far declined to give an opinion on the matter. Click here to access the FCC website

Final Thoughts

I would advise companies to ensure that they have proper consent from prospects under the TCPA before deploying RVM technologies until such a time there is further clarity on whether such technologies are covered by the TCPA.

As long as the FCC opts not to offer its opinion on the issue, you can expect these issues to continue being addressed by the courts of law and if the judgment by the U.S District Judge Gordon J. Quist is anything to go by, then we can most likely predict what the outcome of the verdicts will be.

Due to the rapid rise in innovations within the communication industry, it is extremely important for telemarketing, debt collection companies or other companies that would ideally use communication technologies such as Ringless voicemail drops for their marketing campaigns to work closely with counsels conversant with this space.

For now, it is probably illegal to deliver a Ringless voicemail drop to a prospect under the TCPA. Your company, if found liable, would be ordered to pay the prospect between $500 and $1,500 per call and you would still be responsible for paying the attorney’s fees.

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