‘Free cruise’ robocalls could be costly to cruise lines

If you ever wanted to make someone pay for an annoying robocall, this is your chance. 

People who received calls offering a free cruise with Carnival, Royal Caribbean or Norwegian cruise lines could receive up to $900 through a settlement of a class-action lawsuit that alleged the calls violated federal law.  

The lawsuit alleged that millions of calls were made on behalf of the cruise lines by Resort Marketing Group Inc. or related companies to landlines and cell phones nationwide from July 2009 to March 2014.  

The cruise lines and the telemarketer agreed to settle the case, pending court approval. People who received calls can file a claim for $300 per call, for up to three calls, for a total of $900. If you can’t remember if you got a call because it was so long ago, don’t worry. You don’t have to trust your memory.  

You can enter your phone numbers on the settlement website, rmgtcpasettlement.com, to see if you are eligible. The settlement administrator also is mailing notices to people whose numbers were contained in the telemarketer’s call records.  

To receive a payment, you must submit a claim by Nov. 3. Claims can be submitted on the settlement website or by mail. Your phone number must be included in the call records to receive compensation.  

The lawsuit was filed five years ago by Philip Charvat of Columbus, Ohio. It alleged the cruise lines authorized the telemarketing calls to be made on their behalf and the calls violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act because they were made to people who had not previously agreed to receive the calls.  

The suit alleged people were told they had “won” or been “selected” to receive a cruise, but later were told they would have to pay taxes or port fees to reserve their trip.  

A settlement was preliminarily approved in July by a federal judge in Illinois. A final hearing is scheduled in April.  

In the settlement, the cruise lines denied wrongdoing. They argued the automated calls were not illegal and that they could not be held vicariously liable for them. They claimed the calls were made by the telemarketer without their “knowledge, consent or authorization.”  

“These calls were not authorized by us and were conducted without our knowledge by Resort Marketing Group,” Cynthia Martinez, corporate reputation director for Royal Caribbean Cruises, told me. “We strictly prohibit our travel agents from conducting robocalls. However, even though we deny all knowledge of these calls and the marketing campaigns involved, the settlement was agreed as a business decision only to end costly litigation and move on with our business.”  

“The robocalls were made by a third party, not by Carnival or any other cruise lines,” said Christine de la Huerta, corporate communications manager for Carnival Cruise Line. “We prohibit that type of marketing activity.”  

Norwegian did not return my call.  

I was unable to reach Resort Marketing Group. According to the settlement, the company and its related companies and owner maintained that the calls were for its own benefit and were not made on behalf of the cruise lines. They denied the allegations in the lawsuit and said they agreed to the settlement due to the uncertainties and cost of continuing the litigation.  

The settlement will be funded by the cruise lines, for a total of $7 million to $12.5 million, depending on the number of claims filed, according to the agreement.  

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Paul Muschick of The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) helps consumers fight errors, incompetence and arrogance by businesses, governments and institutions.

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