Junk faxes: The FCC falls down on the job

By | November 11, 2005

After a long hiatus, I recently started receiving junk faxes again. Having tired of the rigmarole of figuring out who sent them and how to sue them in small claims court, and being cognizant of the fact that a recent Massachusetts superior court ruling may in fact preclude suits against junk faxers by individuals in small claims court, I decided to instead file complaints about the faxes with the FCC.

This I did, using FCC Form 475 on-line. [Note that this form has since been replaced with Form 1088A.]

After doing so, I was curious about the odds that someone would actually be done about my complaints, so I went digging around the FCC Web site for information about enforcement actions against junk faxers. I finally found a page documenting enforcement actions against junk faxers since July 1999.

The FCC has issued 262 citations to junk faxers. A “citation” is nothing more than a shot across the bow, i.e., “We know you’re doing this, and if you don’t stop, we may decide to fine you.”

In contrast, the FCC has attempted to collect fines from only 7 violators, most recently almost a year ago. Yes, that’s right, 262 warnings, and only 7 violators actually punished for their actions. I’m not a betting man, but I’d say that 262 to 7 is pretty good odds. If I were contemplating junk faxing to make a quick buck, I wouldn’t exactly be quaking in my boots about the possibility of being fined by the FCC.

Violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which regulates junk faxes, are subject to fines of $11,000 per violation. The FCC reported receiving 16,160 TCPA complaints in its most recent quarterly report. That works out to over $177 million in potential fines. With that kind of potential windfall, the FCC can’t possibly claim that it can’t afford to pursue action against violators. So why isn’t it?

I’ve written to my senators and congressman about this, and I urge you to do so as well, especially if you’ve received junk faxes. I also urge you to report violations to the FCC using the form mentioned above. They may not be doing as much as they should to enforce the law, but what they’re doing is better than nothing!

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