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New technology allows telemarketers to leave a voicemail without the phone ever ringing.

Developers of the backdoor voicemail argue that the “do not call list” does not apply.

We have all received them on our home phone or cellphone — a telemarketer trying to sell us a product or service. Some of us ignore the call, others answer and quickly hang up, while some do listen to the telemarketer’s message. Soon, however, we might not have any of those options; telemarketers have a direct way into our voicemail.

Ringless voicemail is a new technology that allows users to leave you a voicemail through a back door without the phone ever ringing. There is growing concern that this capability can enable telemarketers to flood your voicemail, causing you to miss important messages.
The technology has been successfully used for hospitals, schools, and churches, and developer Josh Justice, CEO of Stratics, says he believes it can succeed in other ways. Justice told NBC News: “Ringless voicemail drops are a non-nuisance form of messaging and are an alternative to robocalls. It does put the power in that consumer’s hand where they can essentially listen to the message or not listen to the message.”

Consumer protection laws restrict some telemarketing, but it’s unclear if ringless voicemail falls under the restrictions. The providers of the technology and business groups contend that since the phone doesn’t ring, it’s not a call — and therefore exempt from the current laws, the New York Times reported.
A service provider has already petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to allow it officially. The commission has been accepting public comments on the issue but hasn’t given a timetable of when it would decide.

Telemarketers can leave a voicemail without your phone ever ringing.

This is done through a technology called ringless voicemail, also known as direct to voicemail.

Ringless voicemail works by sending a special type of call to your phone that does not actually ring. Instead, the call is silently delivered to your voicemail inbox. You will not see or hear any notification that the call has come in, but you will see a new voicemail message waiting for you when you check your voicemail.

Telemarketers use ringless voicemail because it is a way to bypass your phone’s Do Not Disturb (DND) settings. If your phone is set to DND, it will not ring for any calls from numbers that are not in your contact list. However, ringless voicemail calls are not considered to be “calls” in the traditional sense, so they will still come through even if your phone is set to DND.

Related: Are you tired of your inbox filling with spam?

Politicians are divided on the issue, as it could also restrict their use of the service for campaign purposes.
As of now, there is no way to block unwanted voicemails. Phones don’t yet have a spam feature comparable to those on emails, and developers of the backdoor voicemail argue that the “do not call list” does not apply. You can comment on the petition or contact the FCC to file a complaint.

In the United States, the use of ringless voicemail by telemarketers is regulated by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The TCPA prohibits telemarketers from using ringless voicemail without your consent. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. For example, telemarketers can use ringless voicemail to leave messages about your account with their company or to remind you about a scheduled appointment.

If you receive a voicemail from a telemarketer that you did not consent to, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC can take action against telemarketers who violate the TCPA.

Review this updated consumer’s guide to Consumer Complaints, Fraud, and Online Shopping Scams.

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Brandon Gobel

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Digital Strategies Director at NHTSA