When the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act of 2003 was passed, it was supposed to herald a new era of silence -- as in, no more annoying dinner-time telemarketing calls. Based on the number of unsolicited calls our household still receives nearly a decade later, however, I'd say the law has had only mixed success.
True, the sheer volume of calls did drop significantly after my wife and I registered our home and cell phone numbers with the Federal Trade Commission's National Do Not Call Registry. But because so many types of organizations are exempt from the legislation and so many shady companies flout the rules, everyone I know still gets pestered relentlessly.
I try not to take out my frustration on the callers themselves -- they're just doing their jobs, after all. But there are steps you can take to curtail annoying calls; and just as important, ways to avoid falling for telemarketing scams:
First, if you haven't already done so, register your phone numbers with the registry, either online or by calling 888-382-1222 individually from each phone you wish to enroll. Although it's illegal for telemarketers to call wireless phones, you may want to register them just in case.
Registration is permanent unless you later withdraw your number from the program. But if your phone gets disconnected (due to a payment lapse, for example), you'll need to re-register. It's also wise to re-register when you move, even if your number doesn't change.
Be aware that certain organizations are exempt from the Do Not Call regulations barring contact. Charities, political organizations, telephone surveyors and companies with which you've done business in the last 18 months (and their affiliates and business partners) are still allowed to contact you unless you specifically request to be removed from their lists. Even if you simply inquire about or apply for a service or product, that company is allowed to contact you within three months.
Telemarketers have up to 31 days to update their lists, so if you're not currently registered it could take that long for calls to cease. After that, you can file complaints about unwanted calls at the Do Not Call website or phone number, including calls received from a recorded message instead of a live person, whether or not your number is registered.
Remember, though: Debt collectors may continue to call you, whether or not your number is registered. (To learn more about your rights regarding debt collectors, see my previous blog, Dealing with Debt Collectors.)
Unfortunately, the Do Not Call Registry does not block all unwanted calls, even from legitimate companies. Here are a few additional tips for reducing call volume:
If your phone has Caller ID, use it to screen incoming calls. By law, telemarketers are supposed to use some iteration of their business name in their onscreen ID, but many unscrupulous organizations will attempt to "spoof" you by providing misleading identifying information.
If you don't recognize the name or number you can either take the call or let it go to voicemail. If the line goes dead, that usually means it was a robo-call and there was no live operator available. Either way, you'll likely continue to receive calls from the same number unless you take action.
If a message is left and you think the organization is legitimate, call them back to request being put on their own internal Do Not Call list, which they're required to maintain by law or face steep fines. Log the date you make this request so if there are future violations, you'll be able to file an FTC complaint or, if the problem escalates, take the company to court.
If you suspect the call is a scam, go straight to filing a complaint. Common scams include:
- Someone offers to register you with the Do Not Call list for a fee. Not only are third-party companies prohibited from doing so by the FTC, but it's also a common ploy to steal personal information.
- A vague but ominous-sounding message that your mortgage, credit card or bank account has been compromised or is in danger of being closed. If you think there might be a grain of truth, contact your lender directly -- but don't use the number or web address provided in the message.
- Someone purporting to be from a legitimate charity. Go ahead and take their information if you'd like, but it's safer if you initiate any phone or online contributions using your credit card.
For a more detailed discussion around the issue of telemarketing abuse, visit this Privacy Rights Clearinghouse site.
And finally: You can notify specific sellers in writing that you wish to continue receiving their calls. Just be aware that some marketers may attempt to obtain such consent surreptitiously via innocent-seeming solicitations or emails. This is one more reason why it's important to read every document and email carefully before signing or checking "I agree" to the fine print.
This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.