Turning telemarketing calls into cash

PHOENIX - Our phones are bombarded with calls, and a large number come from scammers and telemarketers.

Apart from blocking or sending the calls to voicemail, there isn't much that can be done about the scams. But telemarketing calls are a different story according to attorney Stephen Ostrow who says consumers have the "private right of action to sue these telemarketers."

Ostrow says he has successfully sued nearly one dozen telemarketing companies and by law, you can too. He's even written a book about the experience called How to Sue a Telemarketer.  

"As soon as they call you and you are on the do not call list it's a $500 violation," Ostrow says.

That amount is per phone call. Calling from a blocked number is another $500, and failure to provide a written copy of the company's do not call policy is an additional $500 violation.

It's all in the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which allows consumers to sue telemarketers in state court if they are on the "do not call registry." Ostrow says that includes small claims court, where you can do it yourself.

But first, you have to know who you're suing so Ostrow says to play along and ask the right questions.

"If they're trying to sell you something, 'What is the name of your company? And if we get disconnected how do I call you back? And where are you located?'" he says to ask of the telemarketers. 

Getting that information and keeping proof of the violations are important. If you have the time and the inclination, you could find yourself with a few extra hundred dollars in your pocket.

"It's a great feeling to take the power back over your telephone," Ostrow says.

While it may feel good, Ostrow warns it probably won't stop them. 

"It's a cost of doing business," he said. "When the judgment supersedes the amount of their profits then they will stop."

Ostrow says that would take action from the state's attorney general who rely on consumers complaints about businesses to act. That means consumers not just suing violators, but reporting them too. You can file a complaint with the Arizona Attorney General here.

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