The National Do Not Call Registry gives everyone in the United States a chance to opt out of telemarketing calls. In theory, that sounds like a great way to keep your phone from ringing with offers of “free” security systems or ways to reduce your credit card interest rates. In practice, it hasn’t slowed down Rachel From Card Services and her ilk very much.
Why doesn’t being on the National Do Not Call list protect you from unwanted calls? Here are three of the biggest reasons:
1) It does not apply to political calls, polls. and charities. The Do Not Call List has some big loopholes that make ripe for abuse. Charities and politicians don’t have to abide by it. Many polls and charities are legitimate, but some are about as borderline to scams as you can possibly get. For example, many charity callers are actually paid solicitors who keep over 90 percent of the funds collected and give a tiny percent to the actual non-profit group. Some charities themselves are frauds, like the purported breast cancer charity shut down in Tampa, Florida, earlier this year. It fleeced nearly $200 million from donors, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Polls are often used to set you up for sales calls. For example, if you get a poll about allergies or the air quality in your house, you’re probably being set up for a hard-sell pitch for a vacuum cleaner or air purifying system that costs thousands of dollars. The poll’s only purpose it to gain you permission for sales calls in a backhanded and illegal way. Companies often use supposed political polls for the sole purpose of giving you a “free” cruise that actually comes with plenty of fees and an hours-long timeshare pitch, as reported here.
2) Overseas callers don’t care about U.S. laws. When the National Do Not Call Registry went into 2003, technology light years away from what we have today, and overseas call centers were just becoming popular. Now, it costs pennies to bombard people will phone calls, and overseas call centers have proliferated, as has robocall technology. Scam callers can easily fake their caller ID, and if they’re based overseas anyway, they have nothing to fear from U.S. laws. When the Do Not Call Registry first started, stopping telemarketers was as easy as saying, “Remove me from your list,” and companies could get fined if they didn’t comply. While that’s technically still true, overseas firms know that they won’t get in any trouble. At best, they’ll just laugh at you and hang up. At worst, they’ll verbally harass you when you make a “do not call request,” as reported in many posts on 800notes.com. Rather than being removed, your number remains in their database and likely gets sold to other unscrupulous telemarketing companies.
3) People don’t report calls that violate do not call laws. Even though overseas companies are grabbing more and more of the telemarketing and scam call market, some companies are still based in the United States and subject to U.S. laws. However, the Federal Trade Commission won’t take action unless it gets enough complaints about a particular number/company. Even though it might seem futile, report illegal telemarketing calls and scams to the government on the DNC website. You might just help shut down one of the many firms that flout the law.
It’s virtually impossible to get rid of overseas telemarketers, fake pollsters and charity solicitors, robocallers touting scams, and the rest of their ilk. Don’t answer the phone if you don’t recognize the number; let your voicemail screen your calls. Use your cell phone’s blocking capabilities or buy a Motorola or other phone with built-in blocking for your land line. Those steps won’t stop your phone from ringing, but they’ll keep you from dealing with illegal calls firsthand.
Barb Nefer is a personal finance writer specializing in scams and fraud that can cost you money. Follow her column for the latest on the scammers who want to steal your hard-earned dollars.