Stop Unwanted Phone Calls
What to know — and do — if
your phone's ringing off the hook with nuisance calls
July 2, 2012 by: Sid Kirchheimer for AARP
phone number may be listed among the nearly 210 million on the National Do Not
Call Registry — but you're still getting calls anyway, perhaps even more than
the number of unwanted calls dropped after the DNC registry was established in
2003, they're on the way back up again. So are complaints, averaging 190,000
per month, according to the latest report (pdf) from
the Federal Trade Commission, which jointly runs the registry with the Federal
reason you may be getting those pesky interruptions may be that certain kinds
of people are still permitted to call, even if your number is listed on the
registry. Here are 15 things you should know:
- Unsolicited calls
from charities, opinion survey firms and political organizations are
exempt from the do-not-call rules. Also allowed, at least until you say
otherwise, are calls from debt collectors and from for-profit companies
(as well as any telemarketing firms they hire) with which you've had a
previous business relationship.
- The words "I'm calling on behalf of" a charity usually
means it's a hired telemarketer on the line. That gives you special
legal powers. "A for-profit telemarketer calling on behalf of a
nonprofit charity must honor your request to stop future calls," says
William Maxson, an FTC attorney who manages the
Do Not Call program.
Ask these callers for the names of the actual company for which they work,
such as DialAmerica. Then ask to be removed from
that company's calling list as well as the charity's list.
- Charities aren't
legally required to honor your request to stop calling, but many will. Why
waste time on someone who's refused to donate?
- Callers who identify
themselves as opinion surveyors are often really trying to get your name
and personal details to sell to others. They usually start with seemingly
innocent questions about your feelings about the economy or politics, then ask how many credit cards you have, the balance on
them, etc. Or, after a few questions, you may be told you qualify for
lower-rate credit cards or that you won a prize for your answers.
Hang up. These kinds of calls violate DNC rules.
- Even if you're on
the registry, a telemarketer or seller may call you within 18 months of
your last purchase, delivery or payment. But regardless of past or future
business, once you ask to not be called again, that company cannot legally
- Debt collectors can
call you — but not before 8 a.m., after 9 p.m. or anytime after you
tell them to stop. Such requests should be sent to the agency in writing
(return receipt requested). Once they get this letter, collectors can only
call to tell you there will be no future contact or let you know the
creditor is taking action, such as a lawsuit. For more information on debt
collector calls, visit this FTC
- Never confirm your
name to unknown callers. "Is this [your name]?" They'll often
open with that, but you should answer by asking why they're calling and
whether it's a sales call. You don't want to confirm your identity, as
that will probably just generate future calls.
- If there's just
silence at the other end when you pick up the phone, it's probably an
automated call from a robodialer. These systems
generally have two seconds — usually after you say "hello" — to
connect you to a live person at a call center anywhere in the world.
- Some automated calls
ask you to press "1." Do that and you're routed to a live person
in a call center. Your name may then appear on a computer screen, enabling
the person on the other end to seem to know you for a personalized pitch.
- Consider listing your
phone number under a pseudonym. Your phone service billing information
must be accurate, but your directory listing can be under another name.
This way, you can avoid paying for an unlisted number and when callers
address you by the fake name, you'll know they got your name from the
directory and have no legitimate reason to call you.
- Don't trust Caller
ID. Readily available technology allows phoning fraudsters to put fake
numbers and names on your Caller ID screen when they call. The latest
twist: local numbers to better convince you they're calling from a nearby
bank, often to solicit account information to solve supposed problems.
And by the way, even when not tampered with, Caller ID gives no clues to
whether a call is dialed directly or made by a robodialer.
Maxson says: "Personally, I simply don't
answer any call from numbers I don't recognize."
- Ask your phone
company about blocking services. These will prevent calls from unknown
phone numbers from reaching you. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has
information about this tactic and others.
- Visit KillTheCalls.com for free
"how-to-sue" instructions if you're on the DNC list but are
pestered by telemarketing violators. Often, if you threaten to sue, and
mention that fines run up to $16,000 per occurrence, "that is enough
to stop telemarketers from calling you again," says Andre-Tascha Lamme, who started
the website after successfully suing scores of telemarketers in small
- File a complaint
at the DNC website. It will enter a database that's used by the FTC
and other agencies, including state attorney general offices. Complaints
can be searched by keyword, area code, phone number, state and other
criteria to build cases against violators.
Last year, more than 2 million complaints were filed at the DNC website.
Since the registry was started nine years ago, 85 actions have been taken
against 239 companies and 190 individual defendants, resulting in $69
million in civil penalties. Of that, nearly $23 million was returned to
consumers on the receiving end of rule-breaking phone calls.
- Don't count on the
feds taking up your case. Legal action typically happens only against the
biggest, baddest violators. "We look for
targets where we can do the most good, going after those who make millions
or billions of calls," says Maxson.
But know that your complaint may help build a case down the road against
one of those big-time scofflaws.