AT&T (T) is one of the most recent big companies to settle a class action lawsuit filed by consumers alleging violations of a little-known federal law that can turn annoyance into cash. AT&T agreed to pay $45 million to resolve a case in which it was accused of making unauthorized automated calls.
Who hasn't gotten an annoying robocall, sales pitch or text spam? They come at inconvenient times, pitch you something you don't want and just plain waste your time.
Regardless of whether it was a telemarketer, a bank or bill collector, there's a chance that what you found annoying could also make you money.
"Every call or text made without your permission is worth a minimum of $500, and if it's intentional, which 99 percent are, each one is worth $1,500," said attorney Billy Howard of the Morgan & Morgan law firm. "These unwanted texts are one of the biggest invasions of our privacy. ... The senator who wrote the Telephone Consumer Protection Act called them the 'scourge of modern civilization.' "
Maybe Money in Your Pocket
"Don't think 'annoying ring,'" he said. "Think 'ka-ching, ka-ching.'"
When Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, it put a big part of the enforcement role in the hands of consumers. The idea was that if telemarketers crossed the lines (there are a lot of rules they have to play by, including when, how, and by whom calls can be placed) they would be penalized $500 to $1,500 for every time they did -- and those fines were to be paid to the affected consumers. But the customers have to speak up.
That 1991 law -- and consumers -- got a big boost last year with provisions that further restrict companies about when they can call you. Even companies that you've done business with before are not allowed to solicit you unless you've explicitly provided consent. Some typical violations:
You get calls for someone else who might have had your number previously.
You are accused of owing money that you don't.
You've told the business to stop calling, but it won't.
The main way to enforce the violations is to be on the Do Not Call list and file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, and to make money through lawsuits. That potential has given way to a cottage industry of law firms that aggressively file these types of class action lawsuits.
Banks Have Paid Out Millions
This summer, Capital One (COF) settled what was believed to be the largest ever TCPA class action lawsuit, agreeing to pay more than $75 million for allegedly calling customers' cell phones using an autodialer. The TCP Act frowns on auto-dialed calls that don't involve humans. Bank of America (BAC) paid out $32 million last year to settle a half dozen TCPA lawsuits. Other lawsuits have been aimed at professional sports teams, including the Los Angeles Clippers and Buffalo Bills, and businesses of all sorts that made allegedly unauthorized calls or texts.
The Morgan & Morgan law firm has a helpful graphic that explains what indiscretions make a call or text eligible for TCPA litigation.
If you get a questionable call or text, it's not hard to search the web to see if others have gotten it, too. If a lot of people have, chances are a lawsuit has been started and you can climb aboard.
Another option is a cellphone app called PrivacyStar, which helps users flag and block sketchy calls and texts. It also simplifies filing complaints.
"You'd be blown away to know how often consumers get robocalls on their cell phone after 9 p.m. even though they're on the Do Not Call list -- all of these actions are illegal under the TCPA," said Jeff Stalnaker, CEO of PrivacyStar. "Our users alone file over 50,000 complaints with the FTC each month related to Do Not Call, FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act) and TCPA potential violations. Around 6,000 of those are for text spam. Unfortunately, the amount of illegal calls is on the rise, and it seems that the majority of Americans are unaware of the rights they have to defend themselves."
10 Financial Land Mines That Can Decimate Your Net Worth
You Can Make Big Money from Those Annoying Telemarketers
Managed to get that raise or promotion? Fantastic -- now don't go out there and spend it all immediately. In classic "keeping up with the Joneses" fashion, too many of us see an increase in salary or a sudden windfall (like an inheritance) as an excuse to take our lifestyle up a notch. We buy bigger houses than we need, get the latest gadgets even though ours work just fine,and spring for fancy steak dinners just because we can.
Instead, whenever your financial situation gets a boost, consider the best ways to put that money to work for you. The truly wealthy are those whose money continues to grow and earn them more, even when they're not actively doing anything with it.
The average American household that carries credit card debt holds a balance of around $15,000. If you're among those who have a credit card balance, you've probably seen the little chart on your monthly statement telling you how much you'll pay in interest over the next several years if you make only the minimum payment. (If you haven't, look at it.) The same chart will also compare that to a "suggested" payment that's slightly higher.
Our recommendation? Throw everything you can at paying your balances off as fast as possible. And make sure not to take on any additional debt in the future; if you can't pay for a consumer good out of pocket, don't finance it.
We don't demonize student loan debt the way we do credit card debt because we see an education as an investment -- and higher education often is the difference between one income bracket and another. Similarly, many people justify taking out a car loan by stating that they need a car to get to work.
That said, debt is still debt, and the longer you take to pay it off, the more interest you'll pay. Once you've freed yourself of credit card debt, paying down your car and student loan balances should be next on your list.
Whether it's to handle an unexpected car repair, a sudden illness or a major plumbing problem, you should always have some money set aside to cover unforeseen expenses. Set up a regular monthly transfer from your checking to your savings account to earmark this money before you're tempted to touch it. If necessary, cut back in another budget category (like eating out or entertainment) to free up the funds to save more.
Putting aside a little each month could prevent you from getting socked with a hefty bill you can't afford and then need to finance.
No matter your age, you should be adding to your retirement funds -- such as your 401(k) or individual retirement account -- each month. Just setting aside money sporadically won't cut it; you need to identify how much you'll need to live on once you stop working and monitor whether you're on track to reach that amount.
Here's a quick-and-dirty rule of thumb: multiply your annual spending by 25. This is the amount you'll need in your retirement portfolio, if you assume that you'll withdraw 4 percent per year to live on during your retirement. In other words, you'd need $1 million in your portfolio to live on $40,000 annually. Creating a plan will help you make sure you're able to retire the way you envision.
A home is a big investment, and sometimes that investment doesn't wind up netting you the return you thought it would.
The biggest culprit is having too large a balance on your mortgage, which detracts from your own personal stake in the current market value for your home. The sooner you pay this amount down, the better your home equity will be.
You also want to be careful when purchasing a new home. Buying in a neighborhood that's on the downward spiral or buying the most expensive home on the block, likely won't net you a good return when it's time to sell. Also take care to stay away from custom renovations (like turning the garage into a recreation room), which could negatively affect your resale value.
Paying high investment fees eats away at your gains. And since your gains compound over time, this creates a domino effect that can really chip away at your wealth. Take a close look at your investment companies' fees and shop around to make sure they're not taking more of your money than they need to be.
If you don't have a long-term investment vision and are simply playing the market, you could seriously undermine your wealth-building potential. Stop paying attention to market fluctuations, media pundits and the stories of your friends and family. Instead, create your own long-term investment strategy that will maximize your overall returns. Resist the urge it play it ultra-conservative (or fall for get-rich-quick schemes) and educate yourself on the best way to make your dollars work for you.
If you're having trouble making sense of your options or want a second opinion, seek the help of a trusted financial adviser.
Based on your experience and seniority level, education and industry, you should have a fairly good idea how much you ought to be making at your job. If you don't, check out a site like PayScale to get a ballpark figure.
If you're not making what you're worth, you're doing more than leaving money on the table; you're also losing all the compound growth and investment returns that money could be generating for you. Invest in yourself with professional development and continuing education, make the case for that raise or promotion, or seek out a company who will value you higher.
If you don't have proper insurance coverage, you're taking a very big risk that could come back to bite you. Too many people think the worst can't happen to them, but the hard truth is you can't predict the future, and scrimping on sufficient insurance is never a good idea.
Of all the things we're hesitate to part with our money for, adequate insurance coverage should not be one of them. No matter your age, everyone should be properly covered with:
Homeowner's or renter's insurance.
Flood insurance (if you live in a flood-prone area).
Umbrella liability insurance (especially if you own a small business).
If a spouse or children relies on you for support, make sure you have a decent term life insurance policy, as well.