New Jersey Passes ‘Seinfeld Bill’ to Unmask

State your name and purpose. That’s the mandate that New Jersey is passing down to telemarketers who want to call NJ phone numbers. Governor Phil Murphy signed the so-called “Seinfeld Bill” into law on Monday. The legislation (S921/A1545), requires that over-the-phone salespeople provide the name, and phone number of the company or person they are calling on behalf of, as well as disclose the purpose of their call within the first 30 seconds of reaching a potential customer.

“When you answer a telemarketer’s call, you should know right up front who they are and who they work for,” said State Senator Jon Bramnick, who co-sponsored the bill, in a press release from the Governor’s office. “If they’re on the up and up, telemarketing firms should have no issue with this bill,” he added.

In addition to the requirement to promptly provide information at the beginning of calls, telemarketers will also have to include a clear mailing address on business websites and in any written communication to customers. The bill further bans unsolicited calls between 9 P.M. and 8 A.M. ET, and compels telemarketers to adhere more strictly to “no call” lists.

Under the new law, failing to abide by any of these requirements will put telemarketers at risk of a disorderly persons offense (i.e. misdemeanor) charge in New Jersey. The legislation goes into effect in seven months.

Obviously, telemarketers can be annoying. It’s both a truth and a cultural trope.

S921 gets it colloquial name from a 1994 episode of Seinfeld, where the eponymous Jerry Seinfeld concisely expresses his frustration at a phone seller. New Jersey’s Governor’s office even tweeted out the relevant clip.

During the season four episode The Pitch, Jerry picks up a call at his apartment. “Hi, would you be interested in switching over to TMI long-distance service?,” a disembodied voice asks through the phone.

“Oh, gee, I can’t talk right now. Why don’t you give me your home number and I’ll call you later?,” Seinfeld responds.

“Uh- well, I’m sorry we’re not allowed to do that,” says the in-show telemarketer.

Seinfeld retorts, “Oh I guess you don’t want people calling you at home.”

To which the telemarketer says, “No.” The joke exchange ends when Jerry says, “Well, now you know how I feel.”

But in addition to being irritating, telemarketing schemes and robocall scams can also prey upon people’s vulnerability and cause real financial harm. NJ Representative Paul Moriarty, another of the bill’s co-sponsors, noted in the news release that the legislation could help protect older adults and others often targeted by shady calls.

“There’s an overwhelming number of scams targeting seniors by phone,” said Moriarty. “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.”

Fraudulent calls, coercing someone to send money or share financial information under false pretenses, identity theft, etc… are all already illegal. In theory, a legal framework currently exists to protect seniors from being scammed. It’s unclear exactly how the new legislation will further improve those safeguards for New Jersey residents. Perhaps though, by more closely regulating the act of calling, and by instituting a potential consequence for failing to be upfront, the state is creating a more effective avenue through which it can punish bad faith telemarketers.

In recent years, the number of robocalls has skyrocketed. The Federal Communications Commission has tried to control the tidal wave of spam calls through federal regulations and new requirements for telecoms companies. And though there’s been some headway including at the state level, people across the country are still having their phones blown up by unwanted, unknown callers. Potentially, the Garden State’s new approach could offer some sort of solution.

A spokesperson from Murphy’s office told Gizmodo via email that those who wish to report a telemarketing violation are encouraged to do so by contacting the state’s Division of Consumer Affairs at 1-888-656-6225 or www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov/telemarketers/.

Update 5/16/2023 1:20 P.M. ET: This story has been updated with additional information from a governor’s office spokesperson.

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