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

Automated pay-up calls banned by appeals court

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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 weeks trying to collect a delinquent debt.

Gager gave her mobile number to Dell in the home phone number box when she got credit from the company to buy computer equipment. When she defaulted on the debt, Dell started calling her using an automated system. Gager sent a letter to the firm asking them to stop calling her on that number, but when Dell continued with the calls, she filed a complaint against it.

Dell had argued that because the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) didn't expressly contain guidance on whether consumers could revoke the right to be contacted after they'd handed over their number, the right didn't exist.

But Circuit Judge Jane Roth said that the TCPA was intended to prioritise the protection of consumers from unwanted automated calls.

"We find that the TCPA provides consumers with the right to revoke their prior express consent to be contacted on cellular phones by autodialing systems," she said in the three-judge unanimous ruling. "Because the TCPA is a remedial statute, it should be construed to benefit consumers."

However, she added that Dell is still entitled to pursue the unpaid debt and to call Gager about that debt.

"The only limitation imposed by the TCPA is that Dell will not be able to use an automated dialing system to do so," she said. ®

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