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Stop Unwanted Phone Calls

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

En español  |  Your phone number may be listed among the nearly 210 million on the National Do Not Call Registry — but you're still getting calls anyway, perhaps even more than before.

Although the number of unwanted calls dropped after the DNC registry was established in 2003, they're on the way back up again. So are complaints, averaging 190,000 per month, according to the latest report (pdf) from the Federal Trade Commission, which jointly runs the registry with the Federal Communications Commission.

One reason you may be getting those pesky interruptions may be that certain kinds of people are still permitted to call, even if your number is listed on the registry. Here are 15 things you should know:

1. Unsolicited calls from charities, opinion survey firms and political organizations are exempt from the do-not-call rules. Also allowed, at least until you say otherwise, are calls from debt collectors and from for-profit companies (as well as any telemarketing firms they hire) with which you've had a previous business relationship.

2. The words "I'm calling on behalf of" a charity usually means it's a hired telemarketer on the line. That gives you special legal powers. "A for-profit telemarketer calling on behalf of a nonprofit charity must honor your request to stop future calls," says William Maxson, an FTC attorney who manages the Do Not Call program.

Ask these callers for the names of the actual company for which they work, such as DialAmerica. Then ask to be removed from that company's calling list as well as the charity's list.

15 tips for dealing with unwanted phone calls

To stop unwanted calls, consider listing your phone number under a pseudonym. — Photo by Erik Dreyer/Getty Images

3. Charities aren't legally required to honor your request to stop calling, but many will. Why waste time on someone who's refused to donate?

4. Callers who identify themselves as opinion surveyors are often really trying to get your name and personal details to sell to others. They usually start with seemingly innocent questions about your feelings about the economy or politics, then ask how many credit cards you have, the balance on them, etc. Or, after a few questions, you may be told you qualify for lower-rate credit cards or that you won a prize for your answers.

Hang up. These kinds of calls violate DNC rules.

5. Even if you're on the registry, a telemarketer or seller may call you within 18 months of your last purchase, delivery or payment. But regardless of past or future business, once you ask to not be called again, that company cannot legally do so.

6. Debt collectors can call you — but not before 8 a.m., after 9 p.m. or anytime after you tell them to stop. Such requests should be sent to the agency in writing (return receipt requested). Once they get this letter, collectors can only call to tell you there will be no future contact or let you know the creditor is taking action, such as a lawsuit. For more information on debt collector calls, visit this FTC webpage.

7. Never confirm your name to unknown callers. "Is this [your name]?" They'll often open with that, but you should answer by asking why they're calling and whether it's a sales call. You don't want to confirm your identity, as that will probably just generate future calls.

8. If there's just silence at the other end when you pick up the phone, it's probably an automated call from a robodialer. These systems generally have two seconds — usually after you say "hello" — to connect you to a live person at a call center anywhere in the world.

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