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May 16, 2023

New Jersey law inspired by 'Seinfeld' requires telemarketers to provide their contact information

The measure aims to protect people from scammers and cut down on unsolicited calls; Gov. Murphy signed it into law on Monday

Government Telemarketers
Telemarketing Seinfeld Lindsey LaMont/Unsplash

New Jersey's 'Seinfeld bill,' signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy, requires telemarketers to provide contact information for the people on whose behalf their calls are being made.

Telemarketers targeting New Jersey residents soon will be required to provide the telephone numbers of the people on whose behalf their calls are being made. And they must do so within the first 30 seconds. 

The so-called "Seinfeld bill," signed into law Monday by Gov. Phil Murphy, is named after a scene from the 1990s sitcom in which Jerry receives a phone call from a salesperson trying to get him to switch to another long-distance phone service. Jerry asks the man for his home phone number so that he can call him back later. When the man replies that he's not allowed to do that, Jerry riffs that he must not want people to call him at home, and hangs up. 

The new law is aimed at increasing transparency among telemarketers and protecting people from scammers. 

It requires telemarketers to provide the name, mailing address and phone number of the person on behalf the call is being made. Telemarketers also are required to display their mailing addresses on their websites and list any businesses they represent. And they are unable to make their phone numbers appear as though recipients are being contacted by someone within their service areas, a common tactic among scammers. 

The legislation was introduced by Sen. Jon Bramnick, a Republican serving portions of North Jersey, in January 2022, but it stalled more more than a year advancing earlier this year. Bramnick has said that telemarketing companies who are "on the up and up" should have nothing to worry about when the law takes effect.

"The famous 'Seinfeld' scene where Jerry is irritated that telemarketers can call at any time, under any pretense, and without any kind of guidelines or consequences, makes light of a situation many New Jerseyans face every day, sometimes multiple times a day," Murphy said.

The new law also bars telemarketers from calling between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. to ensure that they are not able to manipulate tired or distracted consumers into providing their personal information over the phone.

Violations will result in a disorderly persons offense, which carries a maximum sentence of up to six months in jail or a $1,000 fine, in addition to other legal penalties. The law does not apply to sales calls that are requested by consumers that contact companies by phone or online. 

New Jersey law already prohibits telemarketers from making unsolicited calls to residents on a "no-call" list, and they are required to state their names and what they're selling within the first 30 seconds of a call. The new law takes aim at spam callers who make frequent, pre-recorded calls to residents every day, often targeting seniors. 

"There's an overwhelming number of scams targeting seniors by phone," said Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, of Gloucester County. "This new law will clearly alert seniors that a telemarketer is seeking to sell them something and the law will provide them with a level of protection. It's important to do what we can to protect our seniors from falling victim to scams. This may also help cut down on the overwhelming number of calls seniors receive at home." 

The Federal Trade Commission's National Do Not Call Registry is designed to prevent people from receiving telemarketing calls and provides a way to report such interruptions. But 46% of Americans reported receiving spam calls on their cell phones every day in 2021, Business Insider reported. 

Often, phone carriers do not shut down scammers unless they're actively doing something illegal, like pretending to be the Internal Revenue Service or a law enforcement agency.

Because spam calls have been on the rise in recent years, several states have taken measures to regulate the way telemarketers interact with residents. Florida law bars telemarketers from contacting residents between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m., and does not allow more than three calls from the same company within a 24-hour period. 

Other states, like Washington, New York and Oklahoma, have measures in place that require telemarketers to identify themselves and their employers within the first several seconds of a phone call and bar telemarketers from using dialing services that can select random phone numbers to target, according to Compliance Point.