03/04/2014 04:44 pm ET Updated May 04, 2014

Hanging Up on Robocalls

Do you feel like you're getting bombarded with robocalls -- those annoying, prerecorded calls from telemarketers?

Technology has made it easier than ever for companies to send out literally thousands of robocalls every minute for cheap. But unless you've given the company your written permission, that call may be illegal, and too often, the sales pitch is nothing but a scam. In January, an Orlando company was accused of using robocalls to push "free" medical alert devices to senior citizens by falsely saying the devices were bought for them by a relative or friend. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the state of Florida sued to temporarily halt the operation and freeze the companies' assets. At Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, we recently invited people to share tales of robocall hell. We got more than 4,000 responses within a week. One man in Virginia said he got at least 34 such calls over nine days in December. American consumers filed 1,837,558 complaints about robocalls with the FCC during the first 11 months of 2013. The FTC's Do Not Call registry does offer good tools for you to block unsolicited calls from telemarketers. But you may still get calls by sketchy operators that ignore the do-not-call lists, and they may use fake caller IDs that make tracing hard. To help ensure that you only get the calls you actually want, the FCC has put some new rules in place. Among your new rights:
  • A telemarketer has to get your written consent to receive a call or message. You can give your OK for them to call through paper or electronic means -- web forms, a telephone keypress, or email.
  • Robocalls to your home landline are no longer allowed based solely on an 'established business relationship' with you. Simply buying a product, or contacting a business with a question, no longer gives them permission to call you.
  • Telemarketers who call will now have to let you immediately opt out of receiving additional calls through an automated menu.
We believe these new rules could help put you in better control over who can call you, on both your landline and your wireless device. But enforcing these rules is challenging, because some of the worst offenders can quickly fold up and reopen their shops to avoid detection. That's why we're asking you to join our campaign to press the government to aggressively enforce these new rules. We will send your personalized message to the people at the FCC and FTC who are charged with helping consumers put a stop to these calls. If you're tired of endless calls peddling dubious products, we hope you'll take action here. Plus, Consumer Reports has some tips to protect yourself:
  • If you pick up a robocall, hang up immediately. Pressing a number signals that the autodialer has reached a live number and can lead to more calls.
  • Limit at least some unwanted calls by listing all of your numbers in the Do Not Call registry. Go to or call 888-382-1222 from the number you want to register.
  • If you have caller ID, record robocallers' numbers and report them to the FTC via the Do Not Call registry. Your information goes into a database that can help regulators identify the sources of illegal robocalls.