Until the early 90s most of the phone calls we received were from friends, family or the occasional wrong number. By 1991 telemarketing became a big business which led to widespread abuse and resulted in the passage of the FTC Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991. This act established the FTC’s National Do Not Call Registry but it was not until 2003 that registration on the Do-Not-Call list became available.
Unfortunately, most of us know by now that listing your phone numbers on the federal Do Not Call Registry is, for the most part, a joke but it is something you must do. Among the loopholes are provisions that election campaigners and organizations that you have done business with in the past can ignore your entry on the list.
This last provision is particularly troublesome. How many times have you received a call from a telemarketer whose charitable organization you have never heard of before thanking you for your previous support? If this has happened to you then your phone number has been shared on a sucker list with other similar unscrupulous organizations.
We also have come to realize that telemarketers can deceive us starting with the number displayed in our phone’s Caller ID. One would think that there should be a law that the information in the Caller ID should be truthful and that you should be able to return the call to the number displayed and get an answer.
It turns out that the TELEMARKETING SALES RULE 16 CFR PART 310 discusses deceptive marketing practices mostly in the context of what a telemarketer is selling. But is not displaying false data in the Caller ID deceptive?
The FTC discusses further rules governing Caller ID data in their document titled Complying with the Telemarketing Sales Rule also known as the TSR. This document states “It is a violation of the TSR to fail to transmit or cause to be transmitted the phone number, and, when available by the telemarketer’s phone company, the name of the telemarketer to any consumer’s caller identification service”. But we all know that this provision is routinely violated.
Robocalls are especially troublesome to deal with. You know the kind? Answering these calls usually results in no reply from the caller even after several ‘hello’ attempts. If you wait long enough someone either comes on the line reading off of a prepared script or you get a recorded message.
Regarding the recorded message the TSR states that “Calls that deliver a prerecorded message must include an automated interactive opt-out mechanism that is announced and made available for the call recipient to use at the outset of the message”. Again, this provision is routinely violated even though some telemarketers provide the opt-out mechanism at the end of their spiel.
So, what to do? Here a few tips of things you might try.
1. Do Not Answer – The simplest approach would be to not answer the phone at all unless you recognize the Caller ID name or number. Let the call go to voice mail or let your answering machine pick it up. This takes a bit of mental endurance to ignore the lure of a ringing phone but what you will find is that most of the bogus or robo calls will just hang up.
2. Just Hang Up – Whether it is a real person running off the mouth with their spiel or a robocall recorded message just hang up. These folks are not your friends and you are under no obligation to listen to them.
3. Block the Call – Try blocking the call through your phone service. Unfortunately modern VOIP services like Comcast will only let you list 12 numbers. Check with your carrier to see if they offer the service and how many numbers can be blocked.
Purchase a call blocking device that connects to your land line phone. Entering “Call Blocking” into Amazon’s search field will result in a list of several devices. Many of these devices only cost about $60 and will block 1,000 or more numbers. Check the product details and product reviews carefully because some of these devices do not work well with VOIP services.
For cell phone solutions try Googleing “call blocking app.” In the search results you will find apps that you can install and instructions on how to use your cell phone’s built in call blocking features if available.
If you try call blocking be aware that telemarketers routinely spoof the number that shows in your Caller ID and that the same telemarketer will often use a different number each time they call. Sometimes they spoof a local number because you are more likely to answer a local call. Worse yet they populate the Caller ID with numbers like 12-345-6789 and names like ANONYMOUS or 800 SERVICE or UNKNOWN and sometimes you see your own number displayed as the Caller ID.
4. Be Assertive – If, by chance, you can talk to a real person don’t feel that you have to be nice. After all they interrupted your privacy. They are not your friends. Don’t let them go on with their spiel. Be assertive and demand to know why they did not consult the Do Not Call List before making the call then demand to be removed from their sucker list.
5. Don’t Share – Be careful who you share your number with and, if at all possible, don’t list it in the phone directory or enter it on website pages.
6. Return The Call – While this seems crazy it can be useful. Here’s how. If you return the call using the number on your Caller ID and you get a message saying that the number is not in service or just rings with no answer you can bet that the number you called is a spoofed number. On the other hand, if someone answers here’s your chance to be assertive as described in tip 4 above. The risk in doing this is that you have let the scammers know they have reached a real person and you open yourself up to possibly more calls in the future.
7. Report the Call – File a complaint with the FCC. The FCC may not take any action but the more complaints the better. Maybe they will take some action someday.
While these tips seem to require a lot of work and take time that most of us don’t have, if you are persistent in following them you will eventually be rewarded with the peace that comes from no longer being terrorized by your phone.
This post is an update of a previous post from June 2014.
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