In the first case brought in Maryland under the "do not call" law, a Linthicum window contractor has been charged by the attorney general with contacting consumers who had sought cover from telemarketers on a national registry.
More than 120 consumers who had signed onto the "do not call" list complained about calls coming from Chesapeake Window & Building Inc. The company estimates that 60 percent of its business comes from telemarketing.
"The reason for the do-not-call list is very obvious," Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said yesterday. "If people are just going to break the rule, then that is a real problem. We decided we're going to enforce the rule and we are looking for people who have violated it a number of times.
"There may be a rare call where someone has made a mistake," Curran said. "I suppose that can be ignored. When there are more than 100 calls, that shows a constant attempt to do something wrong."
The owners of Chesapeake Window said they believe they were acting in accordance with the law because their calls were all in-state, a distinction they believe is allowed under federal regulation.
"We don't think we've done anything wrong," said David Myers, a partner with the six-year-old company. "We don't want to call people who don't want to be called."
The Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission have jurisdiction over different provisions of the do-not-call law. Under the FCC portion, in-state calls are prohibited. Both agencies and the state government can enforce the laws.
"That company should not think they can get away with something just because they're not calling over state lines," FTC spokeswoman Jen Schwartzman said of the Maryland case.
Several states, including Maryland, have their own do-not-call laws along with the federal version. Chesapeake is charged with a civil complaint under the Maryland Telephone Consumer Protection Act. It prohibits companies from calling numbers once they have been registered on the do-not-call list for three months.
Since 2003, more than 95 million people, including more than 2 million Marylanders, have registered on the do-not-call list. Companies cannot cold-call people on the list unless they have a prior business relationship with them.
A company can phone someone on the no-call list if the person has bought, leased or rented its product during the past 18 months. Telemarketers can also call if the person has called or inquired about something from the company in the past three months.
Charitable organizations and political groups are exempt from the law.
Across the country, five cases have been brought against companies that were allegedly in violation of the federal law since the registry was established two years ago, Schwartzman said. Most were filed as fraud cases because the telemarketers were running scams on callers as well. Only one company has been charged under the federal do-not-call law. Other states have also pursued cases against companies in their jurisdictions, as Maryland is doing, Schwartzman said.
"We think that compliance is excellent for the most part," Schwartzman said. "We think legitimate companies are doing their part."
Curran said his office is investigating several Maryland companies but that Chesapeake is the first to generate a sufficient number of complaints to merit charges. The attorney general's office has requested an order requiring the company to stop making telemarketing calls to those on the registry and to pay a civil penalty.
Under federal law, companies can be charged as much as $11,000 per call. Curran said Chesapeake could be charged as much as $1,000 per call.
A public hearing on the Chesapeake complaint is scheduled Sept. 7 before the Office of Administrative Hearings.
Myers said he might have to lay off employees if he curtails telemarketing. The company has four full-time and 10 part-time employees.
"People do respond," he said of the company's phone calls. "People do like buying from telemarketers."
When the registry was created, telemarketing officials contended it would cause layoffs and damage their industry. The American Teleservices Association, which was very vocal during debate over the registry, said yesterday that it had no comment on the impact. The Direct Marketing Association, another major trade group, also had no one available for comment.