Creative Consumer: Avoiding the Dreaded Telemarketer

The Federal Trade Commission has penalized six companies a total of $7.7 million for calling people whose numbers are listed in the National Do Not Call registry.

The FTC says one company got consumers' phone numbers by enticing them to enter a sweepstakes and telling them their phone number was their entry number. Another called people it did not have an existing business relationship with. A third failed to transmit the required caller ID information.

Good to know the feds are looking out for your dinner hour. But you'd be surprised how many telemarketers are still allowed to call you even if you've signed up for the registry. How dare they and who are they?

Political candidates. Imagine that, politicians carved out an exemption for themselves — one that they will make full use of in the coming election year, I'm sure

Opinion pollsters — who will also be busy in 2008

Companies that you already have a business relationship with

Charities trying to raise money

It's still possible to eliminate future calls, even from these exempt groups. Many consumers make the mistake of shrieking "take me off your list," when a telemarketer interrupts them in the middle of dinner. Wrong. That request has no legal teeth.

Instead, ask to be put on their list: their do-not-call list.

In addition to honoring the national registry, telemarketers are required to keep their own list of people who have asked not to be contacted. If they call you again after you have made this request, you can sue them and collect compensation. The company could also face government fines of $10,000 or more. Keep in mind, big companies have multiple divisions. For example, if you tell the long distance department not to call you anymore, you may still receive cold calls from the cellular division.

If you are not one of the 145 million people who have listed a number on the National Do Not Call Registry, time to stop procrastinating. Just go to www.donotcall.gov

You can also call (888) 382-1222 from the number you wish to register. It takes about a month for telemarketers to start honoring your request. The legislation that created the Do Not Call registry is set to expire, but the FTC has decided it will continue to require companies to honor your request while Congress works to renew that law.

You can register a landline phone or a cell phone. But if you've received an e-mail warning you that all cell phone numbers are about to be released to telemarketers, that's just a persistent urban myth. Don't worry.

If after doing all this, you still receive obnoxious telephone come-ons, chances are the callers are crooks. Telemarketing fraud is devastating. Some people lose their life savings. The most common fraudulent phone pitches are: prizes that cost money, cheesy travel packages, untested health-care products, illegal investments, and fake charities.

Know the Signs

By law, telemarketers are not allowed to call before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. They must immediately state that it's a sales call. They cannot lie about prizes, investment returns or the price of what they're selling. If a caller violates any of these rules, you may be dealing with a fraudulent telemarketer.

If a telemarketer asks for your credit card number, don't give it out unless you initiated the call.

Sleazy solicitors often ask for your checking account number or other numbers printed on your checks. Never give those numbers out over the phone.

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