Central Floridians sue companies over robocalls

Lawsuits allege violations of Telephone Consumer Protection Act

ORLANDO, Fla. – When Angela Webb purchased some merchandise from the mail order and online retailer Fingerhut, she said she did not expect to be bombarded with hundreds of automatically dialed phone calls from the company, commonly known as robocalls, seeking payment on a bill.

"It was morning, noon and night," said Webb, who claims her $300 bill was not even due when the calls began. "I'd say anywhere from three to five, six times a day."

According to Webb, when she picked up the phone, there would often be a pause followed by a recorded message instructing her to "hold for the next representative."

"It would be irritating because, if you're at work and your boss sees you on your phone, you get in trouble.  And I have kids, so I keep my phone on me," Webb told News 6. "I don't care where I'm at, I'm going to answer my phone."

Earlier this month, Webb filed a lawsuit against Fingerhut's parent company, Bluestem Brands, alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

The federal law, which first went into effect in 1991, places restrictions on how companies can contact consumers' cellular phones.

"If you're getting calls from an automated dialer or a prerecorded voice and you didn't  consent to those calls, or you told them to stop and they continued to call, the statute protects you and gives you rights," said Webb's attorney, Amy Ginsburg.

The law allows automatic calls to be made to cellular phones in emergencies and when the recipient gives prior express consent.

Companies that violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act can potentially face civil damages ranging from $500 to $1,500 per call.

"It can be very frustrating," said Ginsburg, whose law firm specializes in unwanted debt collection calls. "If you have a live caller and they come on the phone,  you can immediately have a conversation.  But with an automated dialer or a pre-recorded voice, you don't always have that option."

A representative from Bluestem Brands declined to comment about Webb's lawsuit.

In 2016, the company agreed to pay a $4.4 million settlement in a class action lawsuit alleging similar violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Bluestem Brands denied any wrongdoing in that matter.

Other companies have also faced lawsuits over robocalls to cellphones.

Earlier this month, a Cape Coral woman filed a lawsuit against a debt collection company, claiming an automated phone system called her "a mind-boggling 600 times."

Stella Nicholson accused Encore Receivable Management of calling several times a day on consecutive days despite being told to stop calling, according to her lawsuit.

Representatives with the company could not be reached for comment.

"They can find you anywhere," said Webb, who eventually used an app on her cellphone to block calls from Fingerhut.  "It doesn't matter where you are, they can find you." 

CTIA, a wireless communications trade organization, offers several suggestions to stop robocalls including downloading apps that block calls, filing complaints with the federal government and adding wireless phone numbers to the National Do Not Call Registry.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.