Just say "no" to protect yourself from telemarketing harassment: Internet Scambusters #430
Despite consumer protection laws and the advent of the National Do Not Call Registry, it seems we can't escape telemarketing harassment.
According to one report, 100,000 people complain about it every month, even though three quarters of all Americans have listed with the registry.
In this issue, we explain who can and can't call you and how to put a stop to aggressive telemarketers.
On to today's main topic...
How to Put a Stop to Telemarketing Harassment
Around three-quarters of all Americans have signed up for the National Do Not Call Registry in a bid to escape the bane of telemarketing harassment.
But that doesn't stop hordes of unscrupulous firms from ignoring the list (and, in doing so, breaking the law) or hundreds of organizations who are exempted from the rules and permitted to call you whenever they want.
And usually, whenever they want is whenever you don't want -- like dinner time or when the next episode of your favorite TV series is about to start.
What's more, some of these callers are both persistent and aggressive, causing us personal stress and railroading us into buying things we don't want.
In fact, according to the newspaper USA Today, the Federal Trade Commission, which administers the Do Not Call list, receives an incredible 100,000 complaints a month about telemarketer harassment.
We've covered the registration issue in a previous report, The National Do Not Call List.
However, that report was written before a change in the law which now means that, once you're on the list, it's permanent; you never have to renew registration (though you can opt to remove it if you wish).
The fastest way is to register online.
The whole process takes just a couple of minutes. And if your area code subsequently changes, your registration will update automatically.
Some of those telemarketing harassment complaints we mentioned undoubtedly will be due to misunderstandings about who can and who can't call you, so let's look at that first.
Who Can and Can't Call You
Once your name is on the Do Not Call Registry, commercial companies can't call you to solicit businesses. They usually maintain their own call lists and have to check these against the Do Not Call list every month, removing names of anyone who has registered.
However political parties can still call you. So can firms you've done business with, even if you merely contacted them in the prior 18 months -- though they must desist if you ask them to.
Charities also are exempt, but if they use a telemarketing firm on their behalf, again they must honor any request to stop calling.
A somewhat gray area has appeared for companies conducting telephone surveys. Legitimate surveyors are permitted to call you and this has prompted some unscrupulous firms to call, claiming to be conducting a survey when, in fact, they're soliciting. If they are, they're breaking the law.
Telemarketing Harassment Techniques
Whether your caller is a scammer or a legitimate firm trying to sell you a product or service, they know that very few call recipients are going to say "yes" right off the bat.
They'll try to convince you, wear you down, or even use threats.
The techniques they use include:
- Automated dialers or "robocalls" that simply run through massive phone lists and add your name to a computer when you answer.For them, it's a numbers game. As with email spammers, they know that a certain proportion of their hits will score.
- The friendly approach, with chit-chat about the weather or asking how your day is going.They're trying to warm you up. It's not labeled "cold calling" for nothing.
- They appear to know a lot about you. As we've previously warned, the Internet teems with information about you, so this doesn't really mean anything.
- They imply it's a follow-up call to an item you've previously discussed or inquired about, or that they heard you're in the market for something.
- They use a sense of urgency, usually suggesting an opportunity or low price that won't last.
- They claim you've been singled out for a special deal or to receive inside information.This is especially common in so-called "boiler room" scams that use aggressive telemarketers and high pressure techniques to get you to invest in a particular stock or other "opportunity."
- They become aggressive, insulting -- implying you're stupid to pass up this opportunity -- or even threatening.
- They won't take "no" for an answer and keep calling you back.
Protect Yourself Against Telemarketer Harassment
Like spam, you can never eliminate these calls but there are lots you can do to cut the amount of telemarketing harassment.
- First and foremost, get on that Do Not Call Registry. Do it now.By the way, you can register your cell phone as well as your landline.Although there's no such thing as a cell phone directory, your mobile number may still get on a telemarketing list.
Contrary to what some people believe, solicitors are permitted to call you on your cell, though it's illegal for them to use automated dialers.
- Use caller ID to screen calls and only pick up calls from people you know, leaving your answering device to handle the rest.But beware the risk of "spoofing," in which the caller uses computer software to pretend they're someone other than who they really are. Read more about this scam in our earlier report, Scammers Can Now Use Fake Caller ID Number.
- If there's silence when you answer the phone, it's a call from an autodialer. You can hang up, though that doesn't necessarily eliminate the chance you'll be called again.
- If a caller appears to know you, don't say anything to confirm or dispute the information they have.Don't try to get even. If you find yourself talking to an aggressive telemarketer, you may be tempted either to yell at them or play a trick. This doesn't always work and comes with risks.Blogs and chat rooms are full of tips like putting the phone down on the counter and letting the caller yack on, pretending you want to order a pizza, or even passing the phone to a child.
Most telemarketers have seen these (and all the other ruses) and, while most solicitors are just doing an honest (and low paid) job, some are crooks and may themselves try to get even.
Believe us, they're probably a hundred times better at being nasty than you are.
- Instead, just say this: "Thank you, but I'm not interested. Please don't call again. Goodbye." Then hang up -- even if they protest or try to talk over you.Don't give them the chance to try to warm you up or intimidate you.The aim is to get off the line as quickly as possible, Some people, especially older folk, find this difficult to do. It seems rude. But there's no other way.
- If they call again, ask for their name, the name of the company, its address and phone number.Legitimate companies are obliged to provide this information.Repeat your request for them not to call again, say goodbye and hang up again.
If they call again, report them to the FTC and even local law enforcement on the grounds that you are being harassed.
- Never agree to buy over the phone on the spur of the moment. Even if you do, certainly never agree to wire money or give out your credit card information to someone you don't know.
- Switch off your phone ringer and record all incoming calls so you only have to respond to the ones you wish to.
- As a last resort, consider changing your phone number and re-registering on the Do Not Call list.
You can use most of the above approaches even if you get calls from people who are exempt from the Do Not Call rules. Just be firm and polite.
You'll find some excellent further information from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Although targeted at investors, it also offers general guidance on the whole subject of telemarketing harassment.
Beware also of anyone who calls you claiming to be from the Do Not Call Registry.
The organization does not call consumers either to discuss their listing or to invite them to register.
So it's a scam, either as an opening to a sales call or to try to get hold of some of your personal information for identity theft.
In the age of the Internet, it may seem that the telephone is declining in importance, but most of us are now using those very devices to access the web.
Telemarketing harassment, like spam, isn't going to disappear anytime soon, so make sure you're on the Do Not Call Registry and that when unwanted callers manage to evade that, politely and firmly just say "no."
Time to close -- we're off to take a walk. See you next week.