The Checkout

Still Pestered by Telemarketing Calls?

Has your phone been pretty silent lately? Or is it still ringing regularly with unsolicited calls from telemarketers--even though you've posted your phone number on the national do-not-call list?

I don't know about you, but we still get a fair number of calls from telemarketers even though our phone number is on the anti-telemarketing registry--at least one a day, sometimes more. True, that's far fewer than before, but many still seem to be getting through. Of course, most of those calls are from politicians and nonprofit groups, both exempt from the do-not-call rules. We also get several calls a week from marketing/survey firms. I highly doubt that many companies are actually doing surveys! But usually I'm dashing off somewhere and decline to take the survey. So I never have really found out how many of these calls are just a ploy to sell goods and services.

Still, I think our house is pretty lucky. I get reports from lots of other friends and readers who say they are still besieged by many unwanted marketing calls. Lindsay Howerton, a former washingtonpost.com producer who's now a retailer in Charlottesville, recently sent me an e-mail to complain about persistent calls she was getting from a satellite-cable company. There were times she got calls twice in one day--from the same person (even after she told him her number was on the do-not-call list).

The Federal Trade Commission, which oversees the do-not-call list, says that since the do-not-call list became active in October 2003, it has received a total 1.9 million complaints. Currently, complaints are averaging about 3,000 a day; while that's an increase from previous years, complaints still remain constant in proportion to the number of phone lines registered on the list. The current tally is 124 million. Complaints have been "less than 2 percent of all registrations to date," said David Robbins, the FTC official who has responsibility for the do-not-call list.

In the three years of the list's existence, the FTC has brought 27 enforcement actions, including a $5.3 million penalty that DIRECTV agreed to pay for violating the do-not-call list. That was the largest civil penalty the FTC has ever announced in a case enforcing any consumer protection law. Generally, there are not a large number of complaints filed against any one firm, Robbins said. Most firms have fewer than 100 complaints.

Still, if you're starting to get more marketing calls, it's possible that your phone number may have been dropped inadvertently from the do-not-call list--even though a number's registration is supposed to last for five years, Robbins said. "From time to time telephone carriers will incorrectly mark numbers as having been disconnected," which can bump the numbers from the registry. His advice: Double-check the registry to make sure your number is still on the list. You do that the same way you joined the list--by visiting the do-not-call list or calling 888-382-1222.

Meanwhile, let me know your experiences with the do-not-call list. Either post a comment here or send an e-mail to thecheckout@carolinemayer.com.

P.S. Just as I finished writing this, the telephone rang--with an unsolicited marketing call! How appropriate.

By  |  June 15, 2006; 8:50 AM ET Consumer Tips
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Comments

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Unfortunately, the biggest loophole is that businesses that you have a "prior relationship" with can call you whenever. So I get a huge number of telemarketing calls from my credit card companies, who are precisely the people I want to stop calling the most.

Posted by: tallbear | June 15, 2006 9:19 AM

I've long suspected that many of these "surveys" are ploys to get around the prior relationship loophole: you agree to participate in a survey, and that gives them the green light to call you about all kinds of things in the future by claiming that your participation constitutes a prior interest.

Even if that's not true, those surveys can be a nightmare. It doesn't occur to most people to ask in advance how long they will take (I do university research, where it's standard practice to state up front the estimated amount of time the survey will require.) I agreed to do one once, and they proceeded to ask me arcane questions about which brands I would or would not buy -- it went on and on and on for 45 minutes!! I kept asking how much longer this was going to take, and they refused to answer -- they just kept firing questions at me. Finally I hung up, thinking that would be the end of it. Then the next night the phone rang, and the voice on the other end resumed asking questions right at the point where I'd hung up. This continued for several successive nights, which always ended with me asking, then shouting at them to leave me alone, that I refused to go on with this. Finally they gave up, but it was a nightmare. I'll never agree to a phone survey again.

It's a real crime, because this kind of telemarketing abuse 'poisons the well' for legitimate research.

Posted by: BZ | June 15, 2006 9:29 AM

Unfortunately, our telephone number (which we've had for a year) was a fax number in a prior life. We got several junk faxes a day. It's now dwindled to about 5 a week, but it's annoying. They usually will keep dialing every 5 minutes until they reach a fax machine. It's terrible! I don't think the "do not call" list applies to faxes.

Posted by: Ms L | June 15, 2006 9:33 AM

All telemarketers, even the 'survey-takers' (yeah, right, no product being pushed here...) should be shot.

Well, maybe not shot, but catch a disease or something. What an odious, non-contributing to society, annoying job.

If you work for a telemarketing company and you're reading this....we're begging you: get a life. Quit that job. All you do is annoy people, and/or con old folks out of money.

Posted by: JD | June 15, 2006 9:40 AM

Our number is on the list but we still get calls from companies that the previous "owner" of our number did business with - and we've had the number for over three years now!!! Any thoughts on how to let companies know that this woman is no longer at the number, it drives me crazy.

Posted by: RL | June 15, 2006 9:56 AM

Amen JD!!!

Posted by: Telemarketers = Satan By Phone | June 15, 2006 9:58 AM

The best ones (NOT) are when you answer and hear a recording that tells you to "hold for an important message". I always hang up before listening but then wonder who it was and if I could have reported them as I am on the do not call list.

Posted by: Silver Spring | June 15, 2006 10:31 AM

I don't ever answer the phone unless I know who is calling. If the Caller ID reads as an 888 or 800, just let it go to voicemail. If it's important, they'll either leave a message, call back, or send a letter.

It's much less annoying to hear the phone ring a few times than to listen to a telemarketer go into their spiel.

Posted by: Caller ID fan | June 15, 2006 10:43 AM

We have had an unlisted number for two decades, and got virtually no unwanted calls. Then, after being an early subscriber to the Do Not Call registry, we started getting many unwanted calls-- one or more per day (which we do not answer-- caller id makes this easier).

I wonder if the Do Not Call registry has made it easier for companies to find out my unlisted number. Prior to registry, companies could have still hassled me under the "prior business relationship" rule, but almost none did. It seems unlikely such calls are responsible for the massive increase in my unwanted calls. Rather, I suspect that many companies are using the Do Not Call registry to compile their phone lists.

I also suspect that lax enforcement of the Do Not Call registry has led companies to engage in other violations, knowing that fines are unlikely. Just yesterday, Washington Mutual made an automated sales pitch to my home. As I understand it, this is illegal in Virginia (and, I have never before received automated sales pitches that weren't campaign ads). A large mortgage company certainly knows the rules-- and seems to have taken a calculated gamble that they won't be fined for breaking them.

I don't see the point to having these consumer protection regulations if they will never be enforced. It does not take long for telemarketing firms to do a cost-benefit analysis and determine that the FTC rarely fines, and that there is far more money to be made by breaking the rules (the state of VA is not known for its aggressive enforcement of the few consumer protection rules it possesses, either). The Do Not Call registry seems more symbolic than anything. We feel like our legislators are protecting us, and the executive branch turns a blind eye to abusers when they are tasked with implementing and enforcing the rules.

I can't think of any major party candidates who campaign on consumer protection issues. I think we are out of luck.

Posted by: Annoyed in VA | June 15, 2006 10:51 AM

Sue them for $500 statutory damages. Here's how:

http://www.panix.com/~eck/telemarket.html

Posted by: Washington, DC | June 15, 2006 10:57 AM

I know what the "satellite-cable company" is. I get calls from Dish network almost every day. When I asked them about Do-Not-Call registry they told me they get the list from some company and our phone number does not show up as "do not call". Every time they promise they won't call and a couple of days later someone else from Dish is on the phone again.

I am not sure registering complaint with FTC does result in anything unless everyone complains about every call they receive.

Posted by: Just Annoyed | June 15, 2006 10:59 AM

Political/Charitable Calls:
Political solicitations are not covered by the TSR at all, since they are not included in its definition of "telemarketing." Charities are not covered by the requirements of the national registry. However, if a third-party telemarketer is calling on behalf of a charity, a consumer may ask not to receive any more calls from, or on behalf of, that specific charity. If a third-party telemarketer calls again on behalf of that charity, the telemarketer may be subject to a fine of up to $11,000.

Prior Business Relationships:
By purchasing something from a company, you established a business relationship with the company. As a result, even if you put your number on the National Do Not Call Registry, that company may call you for up to 18 months after your last purchase or delivery from it, or your last payment to it, unless you ask the company not to call again. In that case, the company must honor your request not to call. If they subsequently call you again, they may be subject to a fine of up to $11,000.

An established business relationship with a company also will be created if you make an inquiry to the company, or submit an application to it. This kind of established business relationship exists for three months after the inquiry or application. During this time, the company can call you.

If you make a specific request to that company not to call you, however, then the company may not call you, even if you have an established business relationship with that company.

Posted by: FTC'er | June 15, 2006 11:03 AM

I think a problem with enforcement is that you have to record the telemarketing call.

IIRC there have been quite a few Dateline-type stories of people making a living suing telemarketers for the standard $1000 or so per call violation that it's in the law. The telemarketers just pay the fine and move to the next number.

Posted by: tallbear | June 15, 2006 11:09 AM

"All telemarketers, even the 'survey-takers' (yeah, right, no product being pushed here...) should be shot.

Well, maybe not shot, but catch a disease or something. What an odious, non-contributing to society, annoying job.

If you work for a telemarketing company and you're reading this....we're begging you: get a life. Quit that job. All you do is annoy people, and/or con old folks out of money. "

Geez JD. Too much coffee today? Look, it's an honest job (other than the cons artists). Would you rather they start dealing drugs in your neighborhood?

Posted by: Non-debtor | June 15, 2006 11:12 AM

Boy, can't wait to hear her thoughts on airline food! And, what's up with kids these days?

Posted by: DDJ | June 15, 2006 11:27 AM

At least one of the credit card companies (Chase) will allow you to register your number with an internal do not call list. I found this out only by calling to check to see if a payment had been processed and discovering the opportunity to be on the DNC list listed on their menu of options. They definitely do not publicize it.

Posted by: western virginia | June 15, 2006 11:32 AM

Another way to get onto the internal do-not-call lists kept by companies, is to pose as a threatening or creepy caller. By posing as a bad prospect, you will be left out of their future outbound calls.

How to do this: Talk to the telemarketer, but never answer their questions or respond to the sales pitch. Instead, ask them what kinds of porn they like, who their favorite porn star is, ask them for medical advice on sexually transmitted diseases, make a pass at them, ask them if they would like to swing with you, or try to recruit them for your terrorist cell. Talk at length about the Iraq war and how they feel about it.

In other words, "telemarket" the telemarketer. It's an opportunity to take out your daily frustrations and REALLY excercise your free speech rights. The important thing is to HAVE fun with the telemarketer!

You will enjoy the sweet taste of victory when THEY hang up on you instead.

Posted by: Ken L | June 15, 2006 12:24 PM

One approach that works is good old 4-letter profanity. Give it a try.

Posted by: Steve | June 15, 2006 12:27 PM

Much like spam, these outfits wouldn't call unless there was a payoff. Stop responding to unsolicited requests for purchases or donations. It actually is that simple. If no one responded they would stop calling the rest of us!

Posted by: KK | June 15, 2006 1:31 PM

Although our number is on the do-not-call list, we receive several calls a week from telemarketers.

When the caller asks if "so-and-so" is available, I reply that I'll go get him and I place the phone on the kitchen counter.

Then, I resume doing whatever I was doing when the telemarketer called. They usually hang up in about 4-5 minutes. I am proud to have occupied the telemarketer for that long, thereby sparing someone else the trouble of a call.

Posted by: Karl in Richmond | June 15, 2006 2:39 PM

Funny I found this article! We got one last night, my husband said she had the wrong number and hung up. She called right back and I answered. She said she was calling on behalf of Virginia Fidelity (can't find that listed, so can't really report it) and they were offering a free, no-obligation assessment of something, it sounded like she was calling from overseas. Anyway I kept her on the line for about 10 minutes trying to find the bottom line, which was it really WAS a sales call disguised as a free offer. So watch out for that! PS We've been on the do not call list for all our numbers since it started.

Posted by: Monica | June 15, 2006 2:53 PM

I once read an article that described how to use your touch-tone keys to send a signal that indicated a Fax (or something). Anyway, the article had a list of suggestions, including asking the telemarketer to "hold" and then just setting the phone down until they abandoned the call.

The problem with picking up is that the automated dialers record your number as being answered, which means you'll become statistically more likely to get further calls.

The problem with not answering an 800 or 888 number is that it may be a relative or friend using a pre-paid calling card.

Does anyone know of "tricks" that work?

Posted by: Paul | June 15, 2006 3:04 PM

Adding our numbers to the do not call list has reduced the number of calls significantly. Of the calls we get in English, all have been charities or survey takers since we placed our numbers on the list a few years ago. Because my family has a Spanish last name, however, we are still pestered daily by Spanish-speaking telemarketers -- all of them working for mortgage brokers. This leads me to believe that mortgage companies don't care about the dnc list, that their representatives are given no training related to the list, and that they believe people who probably don't speak English (even though we DO -- proficiently, fluently and natively) don't know about the list. Therefore, they assume they can call us all they want! Very annoying.

Posted by: VP | June 15, 2006 3:45 PM

Adding our numbers to the do not call list has reduced the number of calls significantly. Of the calls we get in English, all have been charities or survey takers since we placed our numbers on the list a few years ago. Because my family has a Spanish last name, however, we are still pestered daily by Spanish-speaking telemarketers -- all of them working for mortgage brokers. This leads me to believe that mortgage companies don't care about the dnc list, that their representatives are given no training related to the list, and that they believe people who probably don't speak English (even though we DO -- proficiently, fluently and natively) don't know about the list. Therefore, they assume they can call us all they want! Very annoying.

Posted by: VP | June 15, 2006 3:45 PM

Steve is 100% right, and I was just reduced to the old 4 letters 5 minutes ago before then discovering Carolyn's article. The ones who truly deserve it are the ones who, after you've said 'Hello' then say 'hello' as if you've called them. If you say 'who is this,' knowing full well they are telemarketers they usually get very defensive.

Most of the people I know using phone cards do not come up on caller ID with 800 or 888.

Since I wrote the above, the very same telemarketer to whom I introduced the 'F Word' called me back, presumably having been re-instructed as to how to handle 'difficult New York cases.' This time she was rewarded with a 'No thank you' and a hang-up after identifying herself vaguely as a 'visa/mastercard account' personnel, but not which one.

Posted by: Patrick J. | June 15, 2006 3:59 PM

I am on the do not call list and rarely get telemarketer calls anymore. What I have started to get are calls from fax machines, usually in the morning, these are almost as annoying and they usually call three time with 30 minutes. I have never had a fax machine on this line so there is no reason for anyone to think it is a fax. I am guessing these are the faxes I see at work offering 7 night trip to disney world for $299. Is there a do not fax list.

Posted by: Washington, D.C. | June 15, 2006 4:20 PM

On a related topic: How does someone get off direct mail lists? They don't disturb our dinner hour, but they waste so much paper. Many of the charities send 4, 5, 6, or more solicitations per year!

Posted by: Silver Springer | June 15, 2006 4:53 PM

We repeatedly get bill collector calls looking for "Maria". There is no Maria living at our house, never has been. We've had our number for 5 years now, and I believe the previous number holder was named "David". We have told this to all callers, spoken with supervisors, even filed a complaint with the FTC, yet we still get at least 2-3 calls a week for Maria.

Bill collectors tend to automatically assume that everyone they talk to is a lying deadbeat. Sometimes they're not; there really is no Maria here, despite what their computers might say.

How do you get them to stop calling?

Posted by: Falls Church, VA | June 15, 2006 5:44 PM

I believe one common theme of all the above posts is that the FTC is not doing a very diligent job or routinely enforcing the DNC regulations.

As an example, Chase has called me about 20 times despite having no business relationship with them and each incident has been faithfully reported to the FTC do-not-call complaint center. Instructions to the telemarketers have not stopped the calls. Nothing has been done to fine Chase or even warn them to stop their unauthorized call activities. I have expressed willingness to testify if necessary. A fine would amount to about $200,000 which would be enough money for the FTC to hire someone to enforce the rules and make future enforcement self-sustaining. The calls stopped only when I moved and did not transfer my old telephone number. Pitty the person who gets that old number.

Posted by: energy88 | June 15, 2006 5:58 PM

I agree completely with VP - I get virtually no English-language solicitations now that I'm on the list. On the other hand, I average 3-5 per week from Spanish-language speakers who uniformly refuse to identify the company for whom they're calling if I ask. Informing them that I'm on the do-not-call list causes them to hang up, but doesn't seem to reduce the volume. I've taken to refusing to speak Spanish, which usually gets them to give up.

Posted by: Spanish surname | June 15, 2006 7:53 PM

I found this article when searching for more information about discouraging telemarketers. I have been on both my state's and the federal Do-Not-Call lists since their inception.

Just this morning, since 8 am, I have received three calls that I have not answered because the Caller Id shows "Unavailable" with no phone number.

In recent months, these type of calls have increased, with many of them being on weekends and holidays. I even received a call on Thanksgiving Day, as I was preparing the table for dinner. That person claimed to be from the "American Breast Cancer Society". When I do answer one of these calls, it is usually someone claiming to be from one organization or another, raising money for some cause.

I think it was a very big mistake for these organizations to be exempted from the Do Not Call rules. If I want to contribute to a charity, I will do so. If I am hounded by phone, they immediately go on my own personal "Do Not Contribute To" List.

Posted by: Hate Telemarketers | June 16, 2006 12:50 PM

I listed my phone #s as soon as the Do Not Call Registry became available, and I have to say my unsolicted calls did go down dramatically.

Recently, I've been getting calls from Casual Male. I told them not to call and they said, "so sorry. will remove your name from our list. should take about 2-4 weeks." Well, it's been months, and they are still calling. I was so annoyed, that I filed a complaint on the Do Not Call site about this company. But my efforts were to no avail. Now, instead of live people, I get recorded messages from Casual Male.

I am seriously thinking of pursuing this further to prove a point. That they need to adhere to the laws. Enough is enough.

Posted by: Nic | June 21, 2006 11:14 AM

I like to call senior management at home. Their names are listed in their SEC filings because it is public information. Its pretty easy to get a home phone number off of the internet. It really makes them mad when I call them at home, but I just explain the rules. They call me at home, I call them at home. They often have trouble getting the calls to stop too! But, they usually are successful after two or three calls from me. Its hilarious because they just get furious. I'm never profane or vulgar. Its not illegal to call someone at home. They are the ones making illegal calls. Try it. Its great.

Posted by: Cindy | June 22, 2006 9:20 PM

Silver Springer asked "On a related topic: How does someone get off direct mail lists? They don't disturb our dinner hour, but they waste so much paper. Many of the charities send 4, 5, 6, or more solicitations per year!"

I used to use their prepaid return envelopes to send requests to take me off their mailing lists. What finally worked was when I started sending other things along with my request. I put other junk mail in the envelope so it would cost them more in postage. One particularly persistent company took me off their mailing list after I taped their postage-paid envelope to a brick and mailed it back.

Posted by: Phoebe Katz | August 3, 2006 9:11 AM

Silver Springer asked "On a related topic: How does someone get off direct mail lists? They don't disturb our dinner hour, but they waste so much paper. Many of the charities send 4, 5, 6, or more solicitations per year!"

I used to use their prepaid return envelopes to send requests to take me off their mailing lists. What finally worked was when I started sending other things along with my request. I put other junk mail in the envelope so it would cost them more in postage. One particularly persistent company took me off their mailing list after I taped their postage-paid envelope to a brick and mailed it back.

Posted by: Phoebe Katz | August 3, 2006 9:11 AM

One of my questions is this... Why are 'charitable and political' callers exempt from the "do not call list?" I don't give to any charities that solicit me by phone. I have, and always will give to those charities that I feel are using the monies as they promise! I just found out that the Do Not Call List is available to Telemarketers, with your number listed (whether it is unlisted or not) to let them know that you are on the do not call list... the push it as far as they can with the caller ID reading... UNKNOWN CALLER... 800 SERVICE... BLOCKED CALL... ETC., so what good is it to put your number within the Government Do Not Call list... they have no respect for you, or the site. I would be interested in knowing just how many of these unwanted callers have actually been fined? I had one tell me - "We can call you as many times a day as we want!" - As I receive 15-25 calls a day. I hope with school starting, the Telemarketers will be too busy with their homework to have this type of job.

Posted by: fitz | September 6, 2006 1:52 PM

The worst of the offenders are companies that target sales to smaller groups. For example I repeatedly get calls from the Dish Network trying to sell services targeted at Indians or at people of Indian origin. One of the callers even laughed and joked that since he is calling from India the law does not apply to them. Just today I got yet another call. The second in a matter of weeks. All I can do is rant about this. I have filed complaints but I doubt much will happen.

So I figured I can harass the Dish BNetwork just as they harass me. So I write about them on my blog. http://meragussa.blogspot.com/

Not sure it helps but sure makes me feel better writing it :-)

Posted by: The Angry Man | September 11, 2006 10:01 PM

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