More News:

January 31, 2023

N.J. 'Seinfeld bill' would require telemarketers to provide their own contact information

The measure, which passed out of the state Senate Commerce Committee last week, aims to increase transparency among spam callers

Government Telemarketers
Telemarketer Bill Seinfeld Lindsey LaMont/Unsplash

A New Jersey state Senate bill, nicknamed the 'Seinfeld bill,' would require telemarketers to identify their employer and provide contact information to recipients.

In a Season 4 episode of NBC's classic sitcom "Seinfeld," Jerry is about to meet with a network executive when he receives a phone call from a saleswoman trying to get him to upgrade to a pricier long-distance phone service. 

Jerry asks the marketer for her home phone number so he can call back later. When the telemarketer explains that she's "not really allowed to do that," Jerry riffs that she must not want random people to call her at home, then hangs up. 

This sitcom bit was part of the inspiration for a bill introduced in New Jersey's state legislature by Sen. Jon Bramnick, a Republican serving portions of Morris, Somerset and Union counties.

The so-called "Seinfeld bill," which advanced out of the Senate Commerce Committee last week, would not only require telemarketers to identify themselves and what they're selling within the first 30 seconds of an unsolicited phone call, but also provide information about their employer and give recipients information on how to get in contact with them. 

"New Jerseyans should know who they're talking to on the phone and what's being sold to them by telemarketers," Bramnick said in a release. "My legislation requires more transparency from telemarketers and punishes those who lie and misrepresent information on sales calls. If you're on the up and up, you should have no problem with this bill if you're a telemarketer." 

Telemarketers would also be required to display a mailing address on any website that they own and operate, as well as any business they represent on phone calls. Callers would not be able to disguise their phone number to make it appear as though they're calling from within the service area, a tactic among spammers that has become common in recent years. 

Violations of the law would 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. 

It is already illegal under New Jersey law for telemarketers to make any unsolicited calls to residents on a "no-call" list, and they are already required to state their name and what they're selling within the first 30 seconds of the call. Still, Bramnick's bill takes particular aim at spam callers who make frequent, pre-recorded calls to residents every day, often targeting senior citizens.

"There's an overwhelming amount of scams targeting seniors by phone," Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, a Democrat from Gloucester County, told "I'm not naive enough to think (that) by passing this bill, that's going to stop. But we need better laws to go after these people." 

Spam and telemarketing calls have been on the rise throughout the region in recent years, causing a nuisance for residents who don't want to renew their vehicle warranty, switch to a new health care plan or confirm a fake purchase from Amazon for thousands of dollars. 

While Federal Trade Commission's National Do Not Call Registry is meant to prevent people from receiving telemarketing calls and provides an avenue to report unwanted calls and interruptions, 46% of Americans reported receiving spam calls on their cell phone 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 IRS or law enforcement. Though the FTC has been waging a war against spam callers for nearly 20 years, it's still much too common to receive several "spam risk" calls nearly every day. 

Bramnick's bill was first introduced in January 2022, but stalled for nearly a year before passing unanimously out the Senate Commerce Committee last week. The bill will be voted on by the full state Senate in the coming weeks, and an identical bill in the State Assembly will be voted on in the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee at a later date.