Stop calling me! Mississippi launches app to report telemarketers

The Detroit Free Press/MCT file

Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, whose agency regulates telemarketers, was relaxing on his porch in Nettleton one Saturday afternoon about a year ago when he got an unwanted phone call from a telemarketer.

Presley’s first instinct was to go online to report the violation of the state’s no-call law, but he really did not want to fool with that process on a Saturday afternoon. But he knew if he waited he would probably forget about reporting the violation.

It would be nice, Presley said he thought at the time, to be able to click a few keys on his cellphone or other device to report the information without having to take the steps of going to the Mississippi Public Service Commission website and completing several steps.

From that episode, the Mississippi no call application was developed. Starting Nov. 1, Mississippi smart phone users can go to their app store on their cellphone and download the MS No Call application at no charge.

It is believed to be the first app of its kind in the nation being used by a governmental entity to help enforce no-call laws.

“Typically, people (on the no-call list) get mad when they get a telemarketing call, but 90 percent of the time they don’t do anything about it,” said the Northeast Mississippi Democrat. “This will make it a lot easier to report.”

Residents can just paste the number into a line on the app, click a key and the telemarketing violation is reported to the Public Service Commission. A person also can use the application to be added to the no-call list or to sign up to receive public notices from the Public Service Commission, such as notification of upcoming meetings or of scam telemarketers.

“I think we will see a major uptick in reporting violations of the no-call law,” Presley said.

The increased reporting, Presley said, will make it easier to build cases against telemarketers who are breaking state law.

Under state law, telemarketers can be fined up to $5,000 per call for violations of the no-call law, such as calling people who have placed their telephone numbers (land line or cell phones) on the no-call list. But he conceded it is difficult to collect the fines from the companies.

That is why, Presley said, he is advocating during the 2018 session for legislation, similar to a national law, that would allow individuals to file lawsuits to pursue damages against the telemarketers.

The no-call application cost about $40,000 to develop. Funds from telemarketers’ registration fees and fines from breaking state law were used to pay for the development of the application.

Presley said the fees and fines go back into the enforcement of the telemarketing laws and regulations.