The Federal Communications Commission fined Travel Club Marketing $2.96 million in what the agency is calling the largest robocall punishment to date. 

The FCC alleges the travel firm, its owners and its affiliates made at least 185 autodialed or pre-recorded calls to consumers' homes and mobile phones without permission.  

The FCC said many of the people called by Travel Club Marketing had registered their home number on its Do Not Call list. The law requires express consent for companies to robocall consumers for advertising reasons. The calls at issue Tuesday were made to promote travel deals, vacations and timeshares. 

The company did not challenge the findings. The FCC proposed the fine in 2011. It has issued only two robocall fines this year and cited three other companies for robocall violations. The fine is about $3,400 larger than one proposed against Dialing Services LLC last year. The FCC has won larger settlements from companies over specific Do Not Call violations. 

While Tuesday's announcement marks the largest robocall fine to date, it pales in comparison to major settlement awards this year over cramming violations. 

The agency in June made it easier for people to revoke consent to be robocalled and bolstered the definition of autodialers. It also gave phone carriers the green light to offer call blocking technology.   

The new rules rejected the entreaties of banks and other companies. In a news release, the Consumer Bankers Association stated it was disappointed with the vote and concerned about the "inevitable chilling of beneficial consumer communications."

Businesses are generally barred by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act from making robocalls to a cellphone without the consumer's prior consent. Violations are subject to strict liability - $500 for each unsolicited call, or $1,500 if the company intentionally makes a call after the cellphone user denies permission.

Callers are liable even if they have the permission of the person they are trying to reach but the phone number has been reassigned to another individual.

Banks wanted the FCC to change that standard, so that they would not be on the hook when they inadvertently reach the wrong person, especially because there is no comprehensive database that can be checked to determine whether a phone number has been reassigned.

The rules do carve out an exemption for the first wrong-number phone call but not for any subsequent calls to that number. An FCC staffer said that the new rules will provide an incentive for companies to take proactive steps, such as confirming the phone number by email, to ensure they are robocalling the right person.

 

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