Telemarketing Terror: When 'Do Not Call' Does No Good
The ABC News Fixer explains why your phone keeps ringing.
THE ABC NEWS FIXER — -- The ABC News Fixer has received so many letters about annoying telemarketers that we thought it was time to tackle the problem head on. Below are three complaints we keep hearing, and then tips about what you can do when it seems like the Do Not Call list is falling short. If you have a consumer problem you want to tell The ABC News Fixer about, CLICK HERE.
Dear ABC News Fixer: I have been on the National Do Not Call Registry since it began 2003, yet just about every day I receive one to four calls for everything from computer repair to home remodeling to the police department's charity.
I have asked them numerous times to remove me from their lists. I have gone as far as being obscene in my response to their often disruptive calls that come during mealtimes or while I’m trying to get some rest.
What does it take to stop these personal space violators?
- Ward Johnson, Long Beach, Calif.
Dear ABC News Fixer: My home and cell numbers are on the Do Not Call list. But they keep calling, especially from India, and with in-town numbers and “private caller” numbers. When I try to return the call to speak to their manager, they just keep talking.
- Albert Gould, Canaan, Conn.
Dear ABC News Fixer: Can you track down one person who has actually gotten paid from the Do Not Call Registry? I honestly bet you can't find one.
- Amy Lynn, Akron, Ohio
Dear Ward, Albert and Amy: You speak for a whole lot of other frustrated consumers who are fed up with unwanted telemarketing calls – especially automated robocalls, which now make up the bulk of telemarketing complaints.
The Fixer hears all the time from people who’ve signed up for the Do Not Call Registry, yet still find their phones ringing. Often, the calls are from sketchy callers who don’t care about our laws – but sometimes the calls are from a legitimately allowed source. Let’s tackle those first.
Charities, survey-takers, political campaigns and companies with whom you do business are allowed to call numbers on the Do Not Call list (through businesses are not allowed to use robocall technology for sales purposes unless you expressly allow them to).
So all those political calls to battleground state residents? Those are allowed.
But then there are the callers who haven’t updated their lists, or who never bothered to purchase the list, or who are outright scammers. The Federal Trade Commission, which oversees the Do Not Call Registry, just tallied up its numbers from 2003 through this week. Over that period, they’ve filed 126 illegal robocall and Do Not Call cases, 116 of which are completed.
As for Amy’s question, the FTC got money back for not just one person but many. From those 116 closed cases, they collected $63.4 million in refunds for consumers. Another $49.5 million was collected in civil penalties, money that goes into the U.S. Treasury.
An FTC official told the ABC News Fixer that most legitimate telemarketing firms are complying with the law and using up-to-date lists. But the bad actors are operating underground or overseas, using manipulated phone numbers that appear to be local, and they can be difficult to catch. Even when the feds bust an illegal telemarketing ring, they have to be quick to freeze assets before the funds disappear.
As for Ward’s question about how to stop these annoying calls, it looks like relief may be afoot. Since last summer, the Federal Communications Commission chairman has been publicly pressuring telecommunications providers to provide free call-blocking technology to customers. The FCC has convened an industry-led Robocall Strike Force to work through issues like caller ID spoofing. The FCC advises consumers who are getting inundated with calls to ask their provider for relief and check out their new tips at FCC.gov/unwanted-calls.
Another option is to purchase a call-blocker device for your phone, or sign up for Nomorobo.com’s blocking service, which is free for VoIP landlines and $4.99/month for smartphones. Nomorobo.com was a winner in the FTC’s “Robocall Challenge” design contest.
Albert, your complaint about not being able to get through to a manager is one The Fixer hears often. However, experts say you shouldn’t even go that far with a number you don’t know. If you don’t recognize the caller, don’t pick up. If you engage verbally or by pressing buttons on a robocall, you’re just letting them know there’s a living, breathing person at that number, and they’ll keep calling you and selling your number to others.
One final piece of advice. As mentioned, charities are allowed to call people on the Do Not Call Registry. Expect these calls to heat up during the holidays and through the end of the tax year.
Not all charities are alike. Don’t be afraid to tell a charity caller you’re not ready to make a decision over the phone. Check out any charity before you decide to support them; there’s great, free info at Give.org, CharityNavigator.org and CharityWatch.org.
- The ABC News Fixer
Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.