Telemarketers Loosing Access

April 4, 2008

The Dallas Morning News reports that Texas drivers involved in accidents will no longer be required to furnish telephone numbers for crash reports under an agreement between two state agencies trying to pull the plug on phone solicitations by telemarketers.

The telemarketers generally try to drum up business for chiropractors, lawyers and body shops, according to officials, who unveiled the change Thursday.

The agreement between the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Transportation goes into effect Monday.

“It is getting to the point where every person involved in a reported traffic accident is being solicited,” said Mark Hanna, a spokesman for the Texas Committee on Insurance Fraud, a panel created by the insurance industry and the Texas Department of Insurance.

“The telemarketers say whatever it takes to get crash victims into the doctor’s office. They are today’s lazy ambulance chasers, doing it all by phone. We are trying to put a stop to these calls or at least slow them down.”

A spokesman for the American Teleservices Association, which represents telemarketing firms, could not be reached for comment on the change.

Without phone numbers on official crash reports, telemarketers will have to rely on phone books or the Internet to get numbers to contact accident victims, Mr. Hanna said. They won’t have access to unlisted numbers, cellphones and business numbers – which officials estimate will cut the number of unsolicited calls by at least half.

Fred Lohmann, Dallas-area director of the nonprofit National Insurance Crime Bureau, said telemarketers line up every day at police departments and central records offices across the state to purchase crash reports from the previous day.

Although state law requires them to know the date and location of the accident to buy each report, telemarketers simply purchase police department dispatch logs beforehand and get the information they need to purchase the crash reports.

“The accident reports are the fuel that allows the solicitation process to work,” Mr. Lohmann said. “Oftentimes they will give the appearance of being a representative of the victim’s insurance company, and they tell the person to go to a clinic for treatment or risk not getting their insurance claim paid.

“It’s an effective technique, and it has made this a very lucrative business.”

The crash reports are particularly important to telemarketers and their clients because they indicate who is at fault in an accident and who has insurance – two factors that guide them in targeting the drivers they want to contact.

A bill was introduced in the Legislature last year to impose a 30-day hold on all crash reports, except for crash victims, law enforcement officers, insurers and the news media. But the measure was killed under heavy opposition from telemarketing firms.

“We’re up against a group that has made a lot of money through these harassing phone calls, and they’ll do whatever it takes to stop us,” Mr. Hanna said, noting that another effort will be made to pass the bill in the 2009 legislative session.

“We’re urging lawmakers to support us,” he added.

The Texas Trial Lawyers Association and the Texas Chiropractic Association supported the legislation as well as another bill to make telemarketing of traffic victims illegal. That bill also failed.

The solicitation of business using information contained in a police dispatch log is a Class B misdemeanor in Texas, but most prosecutors say they can’t justify the resources to go after telemarketers who violate the law.

Insurance industry representatives said the additional medical and legal expenses created by telemarketers generate unnecessary costs that are in the end paid for by insured drivers across the state in the form of higher premiums.

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