back to article US court: Dell can't hound debtor with robocalls to her mobile

US mobile phone users can stop companies from contacting them using automated dialling systems, an appeals court said in a ruling against Dell. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals, reversing a lower court decision, sided with Ashley Gager, a Dell customer who complained that the firm hounded her with 40 calls in less than three …


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  1. Charles 9 Silver badge

    The primary issue Dell fell afoul of is that robocalls and cell phones didn't mix when the Act was made and still don't mix so well today because some people still pay for their airtime—calling AND receiving, so robocalls eat into their allowance. It just means Dell will have to assign an actual person to make the calls. Also doesn't prevent them from using a dialing machine to do the dialing and turn it over to the person when it's picked up, but given mobile phone tech today, such an attempt will likely be blocked.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Actually recently the FCC does allow calls to mobile phones *if* the number was provided as a contact method. With more and more people having a mobile phone only, the FCC had to act.

      What this case was about was not Dell calling a mobile phone but if the consumer has the right to remove that phone number as a contact method after the fact and also that Dell was using an autodialer with an automated message when the consumer answered.

  2. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Alan W. Rateliff, II
      Paris Hilton

      Re: PAY UP!!!

      Not always that easy. Dell Financial Services is abusive. Period. They treat everyone as dead-beat debtors, even if you just miss a payment by accident or they receive payment a day late. I have filed complaints with the Florida and Texas AGs over its practices.

      For instance, if you are a day late on a payment they will call numerous (minimum six, the most was 14) times in a day. They demand TWO months payment and require that you use their payment system to do so. On top of that they will demand a "convenience" fee to use check-by-phone (direct debit from your checking account) but sometimes they'll be considerate and waive it for you.

      Of course, you never want to give someone like this direct access to your financial accounts. If they make a "mistake" it can take anywhere from 30 to 90 days to get your money back, and they're not responsible if a massive "accidental" draft causes you financial difficulties including NSF for other transactions. I have dealt with that in the past and it isn't always as easy as calling the bank, and you may need to get an attorney involved.

      In one instance my payment arrived a day late and they were already harassing me, at one point the guy says they'll call back every two hours. A couple of days afterward they were still calling even though the payment had cleared my bank. Fortunately I'm done with them and have been for a long time. Though, when I closed my account I apparently over-paid somehow (oh yeah, ask how they calculate your pay off!) Even though they had my address on-file and continued to send me offers and marketing for financing, DFS sent my over-payment to state unclaimed funds.

      DFS is a scum operation and denigrates the Dell name.

      1. Rob 5

        Re: PAY UP!!!

        I have no experience of DFS, but the poster makes a point that's worth expanding upon for British and other non-US readers.

        The US banking system is a primitive mess, as are the customer-facing sides of the finance departments of most corporations - out of date and populated by morons.

        "Mistakes" regularly happen, redress is limited or non-existent and there's no equivalent of the Direct Debit Guarantee over here. Further, it is impossible (in many, if not all cases) to do the equivalent of paying by phone with a debit card - that's where the intermediaries come in, with their "convenience fees".

        For most people it's not a question of if but rather when they'll get screwed over due to somebody else's cockup. And that's before we come to some of the other tricks, like banks systematically rearranging the chronological order of withdrawals, so as to maximise penalty charges.

        Not to labour the point, but bad as the UK retail banking industry is, what with PPI misselling and the like, if that's all that you have experience of you have a massive culture shock coming the first time you deal with the mess that is US retail banking.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: PAY UP!!!

          Agree 100%

          The other strange thing for Brits coming to the US is that there no truly national banks - there are some that are in *most* states like CitiBank and Wells Fargo and Chase, but they are far from ubiquitous and the large banks are the absolute worst to deal with. So you end up dealing with local or regional banks and all the headaches that come with that.

          If I need to wire funds to the UK, I have to rent a car and drive 50 miles to a branch of my small town bank because the form needs a physical signature. Fortunately I have worked out ways to avoid these by transferring funds between different institutions and online funds transfer to the UK (but only up to a limit)

          1. jonathanb Silver badge

            Re: PAY UP!!!

            As far as I'm aware, the only bank in the UK that lets you do international transfers online is HSBC.

            1. Rob 5

              Re: PAY UP!!!

              One way of doing that is to open an account with a foreign exchange service (UKForex, for example) that has an account in the same country as the bank account that you're moving funds from. Then you do a simple domestic online transfer to your intermediary, which then handles the international leg.

              Incidentally, US banks don't use IBANs and most don't even have a SWIFT or BIC code either, meaning that "ordinary" international transfers often run through a chain of correspondent banks before reaching their destination. As I said, primitive.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: PAY UP!!!

              Sorry jonathanb, you're fast asleep at the wheel.

              LloydsTSB does let you too, but they are £2-10 more expensive than HSBC.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: PAY UP!!!

       does NatWest.

            3. JohnG Silver badge

              Re: PAY UP!!!

              "As far as I'm aware, the only bank in the UK that lets you do international transfers online is HSBC."

              NatWest allows online international payments.

            4. Uplink

              Re: PAY UP!!!

              "As far as I'm aware, the only bank in the UK that lets you do international transfers online is HSBC."

              Halifax does it too. Slower than HSBC (HSBC UK to ING RO - half an hour; Halifax takes 3-5 days), but also cheaper (HSBC £17, Halifax £9.99).

              And I'm yet to see one bank in the UK that does not do International transfers online (but I didn't look too hard). So far, they _make_ you do it online by charging you more to do it in branch or by phone.

            5. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward


              Nope, I do international transfers online with LloydsTSB all the time, for fairly large amounts, its a very easy to use system!

              My HSBC account on the other hand is hell to use online, really primitive in comparison to LloydsTSB, and require many paper forms to enable features rather than a quick call or secure message....

        2. MrXavia
          Thumb Up

          Re: PAY UP!!!

          Thumbs up for pointing out how good our banking system really is in the UK,

          the direct debit guarantee is amazing, and can be used to claw your money back from companies very fast if they make a mistake, and permission can be revoked!

          Also never use debit cards for online or phone transactions, use a credit card, you have more protections, I've had my CC company refund me money when the company I dealt with failed to deliver the goods and failed to return my calls!

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: PAY UP!!!

            "Also never use debit cards for online or phone transactions, use a credit card, you have more protections, I've had my CC company refund me money when the company I dealt with failed to deliver the goods and failed to return my calls!"

            If your bank has signed into the debit card guarantee scheme then the same protections apply as for credit cards. Getting bank _staff_ to understand that it sometimes difficult, but a word or three from the banking ombusdsman usually sorts that out.

        3. sisk

          Re: PAY UP!!!

          ...banks systematically rearranging the chronological order of withdrawals, so as to maximise penalty charges.

          While I agree with your post for the most part, I would like to point out that that particular trick is illegal. I've been involved in a class action lawsuit on that one for which I got a $300 check, far shy of what that bank had cost by through a combination of that policy and holding my deposit for 3 days without telling me.

          The exact chain of events was that I deposited my paycheck (which, unbeknownst to me at the time, was held for three days per their policy because it was an out of state check over $1000 - they didn't bother telling you this, even in the small print, until after you were burned), wrote checks for my rent and car payments, then went out of town for the weekend and racked up 20 or 30 small debits at gas stations, convenience stores, and restaurants. Obviously the checks didn't get cashed till Monday as it was right at the end of the day on Friday, but they were processed first, then all the little debits, then the deposit. Without the deposit, my rent alone put me in the red, so I got slammed with $35 overdraft fees for every single transaction while I was out of town (which means I had the most expensive coffee I've ever drank that weekend at about $37 a cup from 7-11) plus the check for my car payment got returned.

        4. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: PAY UP!!!

          "as are the customer-facing sides of the finance departments of most corporations - out of date and populated by morons."

          This is deliberate. Most people simply give up and pay up, rather than fighting.

          nihil caborundum etc.

      2. asdf

        Re: PAY UP!!!

        >denigrates the Dell name.

        Hahahahahaha the proud name. Right carry on.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Ross K

      Re: PAY UP!!!

      Funny how no one is looking at her and saying, "Why don't you pay up dummy????"

      You sir are a dick.

      There are all kinds of reasons why someone defaults on a loan. Not all of them involve a person being reckless or neglectful

      I hope you never fall on hard times and experience debt collection first hand.

      1. auburnman

        Re: PAY UP!!!

        We don't even know if the woman actually defaulted on her loan, we just know Dell say she owes them money. Could as easily be a paperwork ballsup knowing big organisations.

      2. Ted Treen

        Re: PAY UP!!!

        @Ross K

        "I hope you never fall on hard times and experience debt collection first hand."

        Indeed, Sir.

        To be a debt collector/bailiff it is mandatory to be a criminal - just one who's not yet been convicted...

        You got an up vote!

    4. Nuke
      Thumb Down

      @stephajn - Re: PAY UP!!!

      Wrote :- "Funny how no one is looking at her and saying, "Why don't you pay up dummy????""

      Yes she should pay up, but that is not the subject of this discussion. RTFA and you will notice that it is about whether or not a company is allowed to make automated calls.

    5. Stilted Banter

      Re: PAY UP!!!

      Funny how no one is looking at her and saying, "Why don't you pay up dummy????"

      You appear to be complaining that the article pays insufficient attention to apples when it is, in fact, about oranges.

    6. Anonymous Coward

      Re: PAY UP!!!

      On the other hand, funny, a lot of people are looking at you and saying, "Why don't you acquire some humanity and understanding, dummy?"

      People default on debts for many real reasons, more than who default because they want a bunch of goodies for nothing!

      I know from bitter personal experience that it can happen to anyone and that the resulting hell you have to live through is made all the worse by having to deal with insensitive onanists who share your attitude.

    7. brainbone

      Re: PAY UP!!!

      Offering credit services includes risk. Mitigating those risks through illegal means IS NOT acceptable. That is what this case is about. Dell is free to attempt recovery, but must do it legally.

    8. William 3 Bronze badge

      Re: PAY UP!!! ( goodies from Dell)

      I wouldn't call the stuff Dell makes "Goodies".

      There is a reason why they're no longer the worlds largest PC manufacturer you know.

      And this article does not do Dell any favours.

      Sure, she defaulted. So did the banks, but they still got their bonuses. So how come it's ok for the Bankers to default, but not an individual.

      I don't like your personality, smells too much like a bankers to me.

  3. Rmcb

    Automated dialling

    Surely that only covers text to speach or pre-recorded, not a predictive dialler?

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: Automated dialling

      Do Not Call means Do Not Call. In this case the objectionable behaviour seems to be a robot phoning you up. While I'm not a lawyer, I'd assume that the phenomenon of silent phone calls also would be blocked. If I decided for no reason to phone -you- and not say anything, over and over again, you'd complain. That happens when a robot tries to get you to answer and then passes you to a call centre worker, and there isn't a call centre worker free.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Automated dialling

      Predictive dialling should also be covered, judging from my reading of FCC rules.

      In the UK, invoking the Protection from Harrassment Act on the phone (and recording it) is supposed to be ebough to make any further calls the subject of criminal action, but it's surprisingly hard to get the police to take action and Ofcom couldn't enforce their way out fo a wet paper bag (that kind of dialling frequency is explictly illegal here, but again it's impossible to get action taken, even with phone records proving it.

  4. evs

    Embrace automation

    I've found a terrific answer to automated dialing systems: the automated answering system built into my cell phone.

    1) Create a contact called "Spammer"

    2) Under that contact select "Menu" then "All calls to voicemail"

    Now when my phone rings with an unknown number and I get the moment of dead air indicating that some company values their time more than mine, I immediately hang up and click "Add to Contact".


    1. kain preacher

      Re: Embrace automation

      T mobile does it when step better. they get a an out of service tone.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Embrace automation

        You think you can't set that as your voicemail meesage? *evilgrin*

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Embrace automation

      Not twisting this to be anti apple, but i recently found that you cannot block calls on an iPhone in the same way as android. I have no idea why this is.

      1. Ted Treen

        Re: Embrace automation


        1) check out "Call Bliss" on the app store:-


        2) just save the number and assign it a ringtone of 30 seconds of recorded silence and no vibrate.

        The latter has the bonus of costing the caller something, as it does actually connect - it's just that you're not aware of it until you see the little "missed call" notification...

        Although as an iPhone user, I would like to see incoming number blocking as a standard feature in iOS 7

  5. Fihart

    Dell's downfall ?

    Well, would you buy a second time from a company which behaved like that ?

    As for nuisance sales calls, I listen to the stupid message (that's entirely irrelevant to me) and always press 5 or whatever "to speak to one of our agents". Then walk away from phone and maybe put on the radio in the background so the salesman who finally picks up the call is, hopefully, nonplussed. Sometimes they call back later in person -- the result is you have wasted even more of their time than they have of yours.

    I don't know where the idea that businesses have some right to randomly call people's homes gained traction, but as children we called that "knock down ginger" (running down a street randomly ringing doorbells and running away).

  6. Frances Banana

    As usual it's hard to judge... BUT!

    For me Dell is a weird company - they basically "make you a favor when they sell you something" - so I would expect some circus-style debt collection from them - no doubt ;)

    Since I don't like this kind of approach (I like to be treated as a customer and not beg to be allowed to buy ;) - especially when I pay cash upon order - I don't do business with Dell, period.

    On the other hand I must admit, that it's $%^&* annoying when you have companies that DO NOT PAY. And I am saying that since this week we received a letter from lawyers saying, that the company that owed us 7500 GBP is declared bankrupt (and we did hire debt collection bla bla bla). It's just a big PITA to be on both sides of the equation: whether you owe or are f%^ in between your cheeks. Always hurts.

  7. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Surprised they went that way...

    I'm surprised her lawyers went that way. Once Dell Financial Services is trying to, well, collect a debt, they are a debt collector and subject to the FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act). One clause limits the quantity of calls, which it sounds like Dell was already violating (it is generally 1 per day, 40 in a few weeks is far over this limit). *THERE IS NO SPECIAL PROTECTION BECAUSE YOU HAVE A CELL PHONE!* However, another clause of this is to REQUIRE the debt collector to either quit calling (mail only) or quit both calls *and* mail. They are then permitted one mail to acknowledge receipt of the "no contact" request, and one further mail to inform you they are taking you to court to pay up your debt. They can of course put a negative report on your credit rating.

    It feels like her lawyer got her off on a technicality by using the law they did, rather than using FDCPA. Oh well at least the result worked out.

    On the broader issue of her paying or not -- yes she should pay. However, once a debt collector starts being abusive as Dell is doing... guess what? My sympathies go 100% to the debtor, Dell can suck a fat one. As a few people have said, they start calling at an abusive rate 1 day after the payment is due, rather than maybe a reminder call then waiting a reasonable time to see if they may pay the past due + late fee a little later. Wit the US's crap economy, a lot of people are month-to-month so having one bill come early, or one paycheck come late, means they will be late on items, but not that they are going to go deadbeat on them.

  8. Fatman

    Shitty business practices

    I just had a recent dealing with a local hospital that left a "very bad taste in my mouth".

    Since we 'muricans don't have decent single payer medical insurance; you have to deal with the idiocracies of various payment departments.

    Many insurance companies negotiate a fixed rate for services, regardless of what the provider bills. Those contracts require the provider to "eat" the difference between the contracted rate and the billed amount. Sometimes hospital office workers get lazy and fail to make the required adjustment; and you, the patient gets robo-called to death. Trying to get some shithead to get it is an exercise in futility; and in my case, after three months of dealing with low-life subordinates; I decided to go to the top. "C" level execs hate it when you interrupt their 'golf game' for petty bullshit, like their hospital's billing department fucking up, and being complete dicks about fixing their mistake.

    Once I got through to a "C" level, did the shit hit the fan. Within two hours, I had a supervisor call me and get the issue resolved.

    All I can say is this, "If you don't succeed in getting it resolved at the bottom end of the 'food chain', then you have to go to the top, and not give a fuck about whose scalp is about to get burned in the process."

    End of story.

  9. Christian Berger

    Of course the one true way to deal with that is...

    Get some telephone number from some VoIP provider, it'll usually cost you nothing for incoming calls. (though some companies will delete your account after it sits around unused for a while and has no money on it, they'll warn you several times)

    Then set up an Asterisk or FreeSwitch or whatever VoIP server, configure it to take the call, have some sort of menu system, and then perhaps forward it to your real number.

    You can easily add features like certain numbers going to hold directly, or even random forwarding to random numbers in Botswana. You can even make captchas.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Of course the one true way to deal with that is...

      "Get some telephone number from some VoIP provider, it'll usually cost you nothing for incoming calls"

      Even better, make it a premium rate number. (070 in the UK is a particularly good choice)

      This has the effect of discouraging all but the most determined.

  10. William 3 Bronze badge

    Amazing isn't, defaulting.

    When you, or I, or this lady, defaults, we get hounded to bits, and dragged through the courts, for basically peanuts.

    But when the banks default, the government forces you and I to pay for them to be bailed out, and the bankers open a bottle of bollinger and pat each other on the back over their hard earned billions of pounds bonuses.

    Unfortunately, when you point this out to most people, their eyes glaze over and tell me they are too busy getting angry at what Gary Barlow has just said on the X-Factor.

    God help us.

    1. Ted Treen

      Re: Amazing isn't, defaulting.

      William, it's called "Bread & Circuses": it's been going on for centuries - started with the Romans.

      Stop the peasants actually starving, keep them happy with trivial distractions and we élite can do what we like and the hoi polloi won't give a flying f***...

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