VAN DREW-CUNNINGHAM BILL CREATING TELEMARKETING FRAUD INVESTIGATION UNIT ADVANCES

Senator Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Atlantic and Cumberland, speaks to reporters about his legislative package aimed at increasing New Jersey's coastal flooding and evacuation preparedness.

 TRENTON – In an effort to combat telephone solicitation scams and other illegal telemarketing calls, Senators Jeff Van Drew and Sandra Cunningham sponsored legislation to establish a state telemarketing fraud investigation unit that would be charged with examining consumer complaints. The bill was approved today by the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee.

“There are thousands of illegal telemarketing calls occurring every day in the state,” said Senator Van Drew (D-Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic). “Not only are these calls a major inconvenience to residents, but many are made by folks attempting to scam residents out of their hard-earned money with false promises of products or services or by posing as a legitimate fundraising organization. The purpose of the task force is to investigate complaints by consumers and to hold accountable the individuals responsible for attempting to defraud residents. The fact is, while we already have a law against unwanted calls, it is imperative that we boost enforcement efforts.”

Congress reports that telemarketing fraud robs consumers of approximately $40 billion every year. In New Jersey, scams have been reported ranging from callers impersonating police fundraising organizations to those who claimed to represent a utility company seeking payment on an overdue bill. A representative of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association testified before the committee that the state PBA prohibits members and locals from doing telemarketing fundraising, however they receive regular complaints involving groups claiming to represent their organizations.

There are a number of federal and state laws intended to protect consumers against unwanted telephone calls. Consumers may register their residential or wireless phone numbers on the national Do-Not-Call registry by telephone or by Internet at no cost. A state Do-Not-Call law, which Van Drew sponsored while serving in the Assembly, is intended to maximize protection from unsolicited and unwarranted telemarketing sales calls. Despite the efforts of lawmakers, unwanted and illegal calls persist.

The senators’ bill (S-247) would require the Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs to establish a telemarketing fraud investigation unit, which would be responsible for investigating consumer complaints of: unsolicited telemarketing sales calls from unregistered telemarketers; telemarketing calls made in violation of the division’s no call list; telemarketing calls in which the telemarketer calling does not promptly identify the person on behalf of whom the call is made or the purpose of the call; calls received between the hours of 9 p.m. and 8 a.m.; made using caller identification blocking methods; and those made to any commercial mobile services device; and, any other such consumer complaints related to telemarketing practices as determined by the director.

“We have taken steps to protect consumers from receiving unwanted telemarketing calls. However, they are still occurring at an alarming rate. Seniors and other vulnerable populations are often the target of these calls, and in some instances are being defrauded out of their financial savings,” said Cunningham (D-Hudson). “In order to protect our residents, we have to become more aggressive in rooting out the bad actors who perpetrate these schemes. The telemarketing fraud investigation unit will be devoted entirely to this effort.”

Consumers may register online at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 1-888-382-1222 (TTY call 1-866-290-4236) from the phone number to be registered. New Jersey residents who have already signed up for the federal Do-Not-Call registry administered by the FTC are automatically protected under New Jersey law.

The bill was approved by a vote of 5–0. It next goes to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration.