Whether you’re a professional in the marketing space or the legal field, chances are the name Craig Cunningham rings a bell – or perhaps more fittingly, an alarm.
Over the past decade, Craig has made a name for himself by filing over 150 Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) lawsuits – a staggering amount for an individual representing himself in the majority of his cases. He has created a new type of career as a “professional plaintiff,” targeting marketers using automation to call or text prospective customers without their consent – whether the outreach was made in good faith or not – and has since become infamous for putting TCPA cases into the spotlight.
While the TCPA originally went into effect all the way back in 1991, the clarity of its regulations began to blur as technology advanced rapidly over the next two decades. As the years went by, litigation continued rising at rapid rates thanks to loopholes and overall confusion, which led the FCC to release a Declaratory Ruling and Order in July 2015 in an effort to clarify the issues surrounding the regulations. Between 2015 and December 2017, TCPA litigation still jumped up 50% and affected companies in over 40 industries.
Simply put: Because technology and outreach efforts keep evolving so quickly, it’s becoming more difficult for marketers to discern if their outreach is compliant or not, which in turn is making it easier than ever for people like Craig to hit companies of all sizes and industries with lawsuits.
His illustrious journey into the world of TCPA lawsuits began back in 2014, preying initially on debt collection companies and later widening his targets to companies like home security providers and resellers and adding promotional outreach violations to his arsenal. As he began to find more success with his lawsuits – most companies would rather settle the $500 or $1,500 fine per call than spend hundreds of thousands dollars in court – Craig began to spread awareness about his successes on financial forums and outlets so others could follow suit. He even claimed that he was writing a book titled “Tales of a Debt Collection Terrorist: How I Beat the Credit Industry At Its Own Game,” although nothing under that title has been published yet.
Craig’s most recent victim was Radius Global Solutions, LLC, who he sued in September 2020 for placing a missed call to his phone, which Craig argued was an illegal robocall. He claimed that he had wasted his time and money trying to determine who called him by dialing the number from which he received the missed call. As a result, the Court denied Radius’ motion to dismiss, which will in turn allow Cunningham to continue his efforts to prosecute the TCPA claim. This decision from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas may set a tough precedent for TCPA lawsuits regarding missed calls in the future.
Now, Craig’s success has even inspired others to follow his lead in an attempt to catch marketers in the act of non-compliant campaigns and get an easy payout. A college student named Andrew Perrong has filed dozens of lawsuits since 2015, winning against a variety of companies, from debt collection agencies to huge corporations like Verizon and Citibank. A woman named Melody Stoops has testified in court that she has collected 35 cell phones to support her “business” of being a professional TCPA plaintiff, simply waiting for the wrong company to call.
Unfortunately, Craig Cunningham is no longer an anomaly. As more “Craigs” sprout up around the country, the higher your chances are of calling someone who will jump at the chance to take your company to court. That’s why it’s more important than ever to stay up to date on TCPA compliance and take steps to protect yourself as soon as possible.
This post was originally published on November 10, 2017. It has been updated to include the latest details on this ongoing story.