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Stop Unwanted Phone Calls

What to know — and do — if your phone's ringing off the hook with nuisance calls

9. Some automated calls ask you to press "1." Do that and you're routed to a live person in a call center. Your name may then appear on a computer screen, enabling the person on the other end to seem to know you for a personalized pitch.

10. Consider listing your phone number under a pseudonym. Your phone service billing information must be accurate, but your directory listing can be under another name. This way, you can avoid paying for an unlisted number and when callers address you by the fake name, you'll know they got your name from the directory and have no legitimate reason to call you.

11. Don't trust Caller ID. Readily available technology allows phoning fraudsters to put fake numbers and names on your Caller ID screen when they call. The latest twist: local numbers to better convince you they're calling from a nearby bank, often to solicit account information to solve supposed problems.

And by the way, even when not tampered with, Caller ID gives no clues to whether a call is dialed directly or made by a robodialer.

Maxson says: "Personally, I simply don't answer any call from numbers I don't recognize."

12. Ask your phone company about blocking services. These will prevent calls from unknown phone numbers from reaching you. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has information about this tactic and others.

13. Visit KillTheCalls.com for free "how-to-sue" instructions if you're on the DNC list but are pestered by telemarketing violators. Often, if you threaten to sue, and mention that fines run up to $16,000 per occurrence, "that is enough to stop telemarketers from calling you again," says Andre-Tascha Lamme, who started the website after successfully suing scores of telemarketers in small claims court.

14. File a complaint at the DNC website. It will enter a database that's used by the FTC and other agencies, including state attorney general offices. Complaints can be searched by keyword, area code, phone number, state and other criteria to build cases against violators.

Last year, more than 2 million complaints were filed at the DNC website. Since the registry was started nine years ago, 85 actions have been taken against 239 companies and 190 individual defendants, resulting in $69 million in civil penalties. Of that, nearly $23 million was returned to consumers on the receiving end of rule-breaking phone calls.

15. Don't count on the feds taking up your case. Legal action typically happens only against the biggest, baddest violators. "We look for targets where we can do the most good, going after those who make millions or billions of calls," says Maxson.

But know that your complaint may help build a case down the road against one of those big-time scofflaws.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.

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