Steve Baus hit back at telemarketers who blocked his cell phone by charging them – literally.
WOODINVILLE, Wash. – Steve Baus is happy with his golf game these days, and it’s not just because of his score.
Each shot feels like a strike against the robocallers that have plagued him for years.
“A lot of the guys I play with will remember that a guy in Pakistan paid for these clubs,” Baus said, with a smile as he stepped forward to play the fourth hole at Bear Creek Country Club in Woodinville.
Baus was referring to the three paychecks he has received since December after deciding to turn the tide on telemarketers who jam his cell phone and force them to pay him. Baus plays with TaylorMade clubs he bought with $ 3,100 in settlement money from telemarketers he accused of breaking a federal law banning unwanted robocalls.
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“It was like a win for the good guys, I guess,” Baus said of the money he got.
Baus is among a growing number of private citizens taking matters into their own hands, tired of the government’s weak and ineffective enforcement against telemarketers who break federal law.
the Consumer Protection by Telephone Act 1991 (TCPA) authorizes penalties of $ 500 for each violation – $ 1,500 for intentional violations – whenever a business violates the national “Do Not Call” registry, uses automatic dialing systems or illegally pre-recorded messages .
The federal government uses the law to target harassing telemarketers in rare cases. But more importantly, the TCPA allows citizens to sue telemarketers who can make tens of thousands of automated calls every day.
“They are abusing a system … and we are putting the power back into the hands of the people who actually have the time and the will to enforce the laws as Congress intended,” said Doc Compton, an expert in Texas-based credit who sold Baus a $ 47 online kit on how to make money with calls.
The Compton System is part of a network of private citizens and law firms that use a similar strategy under the TCPA.
The first step is often the most difficult: trying to identify the company that initiated the call.
Baus, who owns a software company, can spend hours of his day on the phone with telemarketers trying to get this information. In one case, he bought a refundable car warranty just to get contact information for a company that called his phone multiple times.
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“You buy the font and you get the contact details for the marketing company,” Baus explained. “So you have clear evidence that it’s them. “
With this information in hand, it’s time to take the second step. Baus sent a legal “letter of formal notice” to the company containing specific information about the dates and times they called his phone, citing violations of the TCPA.
The letter offers to settle the case, usually for $ 1,250, or the telemarketer could be sued.
“It’s the cost of doing business for them,” Baus said, of the companies that decide to set up shop. “It’s just an advertising expense for them.”
But not all offenders come from shady companies based overseas.
Baus’ biggest paycheck came from Ziply Fiber, a major Internet service provider in the Northwest who called him a day earlier this year with a pre-recorded message. He sent a formal notice to a Ziply executive explaining that the appeal violated the TCPA and that the company agreed to settle with him for $ 1,250.
“I thought it was the most money I made in about 40 minutes of my life,” Baus laughed.
Compton and Baus said the key to success is choosing the right targets.
Pure crooks, like those who claim to be federal agents who will arrest you if you don’t send them money, are hard to find and would never set up shop. But many semi-legitimate US-based companies have automated calling programs.
“These are the ones you can sue,” Baus explained.
Ziply Fiber said robocalls have stopped. A spokesperson blamed “… a contractor who actually carried out the robocall”, adding: “We immediately shut down their program.”
But not until Baus got his money.