Tired of telemarketers? Utah lawmakers have a bill for you

Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, talks about HB217,
Telephone Solicitations Amendments, which he is sponsoring, in the
House chamber at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday.

Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, talks about HB217, Telephone Solicitations Amendments, which he is sponsoring, in the House chamber at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Tired of receiving an endless stream of unsolicited phone calls? You're not alone, because the Utah House just passed a bill to limit unwanted telephone solicitation.

HB217, sponsored by Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, is the result of years of work with the Department of Commerce with the goal of "cracking down" on telemarketers who violate the national do-not-call list or other telecommunications laws.

"If you don't like telemarketing, this is a bill for you," Thurston said.

Thurston said the bill is primarily an effort to clarify some of the language in existing law, but it does add a few new provisions. Primarily, the bill would expand the definition of a solicitation call to include those in which the caller offers to buy real estate or other property.

"Normally solicitation is thought of as someone calling you to try to sell you stuff, but lately we've had a lot of people calling wanting to buy your stuff," Thurston said.

It wouldn't prohibit such calls altogether, but would simply require that those callers follow the same rules and respect do-not-call lists and daylight hours.

The bill would specifically target Utah companies who outsource telemarketing to other countries that are not subject to U.S. laws. Thurston said that is a frequent issue, as call centers in foreign countries can call U.S. citizens outside of normal daytime hours and without permission.

Thurston said it isn't unusual for Utah-based companies to hire a foreign contractor on an "arm's-length partnership" in order to skirt regulations and still market their business to local consumers. He said companies can provide plausible deniability that they knew of any wrongdoing, an issue his bill would address by making companies liable if they have "reason to know" that such tactics are being used for their benefit.

The same standard of liability would apply to celebrities who lend their credibility to endorse a company or product.

The bill would also prohibit telemarketers from using technology to block or disguise their caller IDs.

Phone scams and robocalls have grown prevalent in recent years. Officials have advised Utahns to be wary of calls they aren't expecting, because criminals can make themselves seem legitimate by pretending to be calling from local area codes.

At the end of his presentation, Thurston joked with fellow lawmakers about frequent scam calls, saying "If you need help with your car warranty, I know a guy ... I can hook you up."

HB217 passed unanimously and will head to the Senate for consideration.

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