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Is the Do Not Call Registry a Joke?

André-Tascha Lammé listed his phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry the day it opened—June 27, 2003. It didn’t help.

“The telemarketers kept calling. At one point, I was getting up to 20 calls a day,” says the computer technology consultant. “And they still do. Just yesterday, I received a call from a company I’ve never done business with, selling home improvement services.”

He filed numerous complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which runs the Do Not Call list. “But no action was taken on any complaint I made,” says Lammé. He finally took matters into his own hands, paying $35 to file complaints in small claims court against telemarketers who ignored his repeated requests to stop calling his home.

So far, he says, he has received $16,000 in settlements and awards—“and I haven’t lost a case yet.” He has even started a website that provides free how-to-sue instructions for other Do Not Call registrants pestered by telemarketing violators.

“You really have to take action yourself,” Lammé tells the Bulletin. “The Do Not Call list is a joke. It does nothing to stop telemarketers.”

Maybe you can relate. Since the Do Not Call list’s inception six years ago, 185 million phone numbers have been registered. And yet, millions of Americans continue to get unwanted and unsolicited telemarketing calls.

The robots attack

Most recently, there has been a barrage of “robocalls”—prerecorded messages made with an autodialer that tries every phone number in sequence.

“I get about 15 a month, and I registered on the Do Not Call list when it came out,” says Bob Sills, 58, who lives near Oakland, Calif. “It probably stopped some calls, but it’s been pretty constant over the last 18 months.”

Sills says he routinely follows callers’ instructions to be removed from their lists to prevent future calls—to no avail. And like Lammé, he has also filed complaints on the Do Not Call website. “I never heard back on any complaint I filed,” says the retired computer programmer. “If the government can trace the numbers of these violators, why aren’t they shutting them down?”

It’s a question that many have been asking recently. Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Mark Warner, D-Va., spoke out after 300,000 people complained to the Better Business Bureau about robocalls selling dubious auto warranties. Those calls were made not only to land lines but also to cellphones, which are off limits to any telemarketing calls.

In response, the FTC asked a federal court to shut down two Florida companies, one selling the allegedly worthless warranties and the other a telemarketing company said to have made as many as 1 billion robocalls since 2007.

That action, according to FTC spokesman Mitchell Katz, is the 58th in six years against firms charged with violating Do Not Call regulations. In all, some $21 million in fines has been collected for the U.S. Treasury.

Why the calls keep coming

The calls are tough to stop for several reasons:

• In the first place, some calls may be bothersome, but they’re legal. Exempt from Do Not Call rules are phone calls made by political organizations and politicians, charities, survey takers and companies with which you have an established business relationship.

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