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Law Toughened against Telemarketing Calls

Thursday 08 August 2019

Telemarketing call centres abroad of companies based in France will no longer be entitled to use a French telephone number.

Last month, Arcep, the French telecoms agency, took action to limit unsolicited commercial telephone marketing calls, a practice referred to in France as démarchage téléphonique abusif.

The problem is a major one in France, with many households receiving several such calls on a daily basis.

Call centres located abroad will no longer have the right to call France from abroad with a local geographic number (starting with 01 to 05) or the generic 09 telephone number.

The regulation was introduced in July 2018, but the agency gave the marketing companies until 1st August to come into line.

The use of ‘number spoofing’ has become widespread in recent years, with the telemarketing companies seeking to obtain a higher pick-up rate from the numbers they call.

The new measure should enable households to be better informed about the geographical origin of a call before answering it.

However, although some amelioration from these calls should now occur, the telephone operators (Orange, Free, SFR and Bouygues) have been given a further two years to set up effective caller authentication systems.

Until these systems are fully in place, which would enable calls from abroad to be filtered out, households will continue to be reliant on companies complying with the new regulation.

The consumer group UFC-Que Choisir has welcomed the change, but considers it is not enough, with Cédric Musso, for UFC-Que Choisir, calling for "a telephone indicator specific to direct sellers".

In a related change, automated systems that send more messages and calls than they receive will no longer be able to send promotional messages with mobile phone numbers that start with 06 or 07. In due course this same regulation with apply to the standard geographic telephone numbers.

Toughening of the law has occurred as a result of the failure of the 'Bloctel' telephone preference service introduced in 2016, which was designed to stop unsolicited marketing calls. Around 3 million individuals have listed their telephone number on Bloctel. 

Under the system, companies who undertake direct marketing must consult the Bloctel register on a monthly basis, and remove from their own prospecting list those telephone numbers on the register.

Although many such calls emanate from a platform outside of France, if such calls have been commissioned by a company based in France the company itself can be fined.

However, although there are tens of thousands of companies involved in telephone marketing, less than 700 are listed on Bloctel, committed to complying with the regulations.

Alongside Bloctel the government also outlawed the use of hidden telephone numbers (numéro masqué) by telemarking companies, who are liable to a fine of up to €15,000 if they breach this rule.

Last year, the French consumer protection body, the 'DGCCRF', stated that they had imposed fines on 130 companies who they considered had abused the law. In 2019, four major companies were penalised - Premium Energy and Oxygène, energy conservation companies, SAS Ocealis, who provide telephone assistance at home for elderly individuals, and Deevea, complementary health insurance advisers. 

It is likely that there will be further toughening of the law in due course, as additional proposed controls are making their way through the French parliament.

The proposals include a requirement for telemarketing companies to clearly identify themselves, the introduction of a system of 'opt-in' rather than 'opt-out' for households, and heavy fines for non-compliance.

However, the debate on toughening of the law is complicated by the employment consequences of a reduction in telemarketing activity, with potentially tens of thousands of jobs at risk. 

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