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Would it be legal for a telemarketer to call me at 1 a.m., waking me up, to sell me something?

No, telemarketers cannot call consumers before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. Telemarketers who do call after these times have violated two federal laws that overlap somewhat — the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act. Both laws empower either state officials or individuals to sue for abusive telemarketing practices. Complaints can also be filed with the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission.

Can creditors and telemarketers use profanity over the telephone?

Generally, yes. However, many states have passed laws regarding telephone harassment. In Tennessee, for example, telephone harassment is committed by one “who intentionally threatens by telephone … to take action known to be unlawful against any person, and by this action knowingly annoys or alarms the recipient” (T.C.A. § 39-17-308(a)(1)). The elements for telephone harassment must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt by the state. While the elements vary slightly from state to state, the prosecution generally must prove that the defendant placed the calls anonymously, repetitiously or at an inconvenient hour; the defendant had no legitimate purpose for contacting the victim; and the defendant’s action somehow alarmed or annoyed the victim.

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