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Is the Do Not Call Registry a Joke?

This means that if you hold a mortgage from Citibank, for instance, you will likely receive calls pitching Citibank credit cards or other services. “But once you tell that company to remove you from its list, they should stop calling,” notes Katz.

• Sometimes, companies are negligent. All telemarketers are required to check the Do Not Call registry every month to determine which phone numbers should not be called. “But there are telemarketers who don’t, and citizens get calls when they shouldn’t,” says Katz.

• But the biggest problem is that such calls can easily be disguised by unscrupulous telemarketers, who use a variety of techniques to avoid getting caught. These include using robocalls as well as “spoofing,” which lets callers hide or disguise the phone numbers appearing on your caller ID.

Spoofing products—sold on the Internet for as little as $10 for 60 minutes of calling time—are often used by scammers posing as your credit card company, a government agency or another legitimate entity in order to get sensitive personal information. Spoofing also makes it virtually impossible for consumers to make accurate Do Not Call complaints because the numbers they see on their Caller ID aren’t the real ones.

Another way telemarketers can disguise themselves is by subscribing to voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) telephone services such as Vonage that let them choose their own area code and phone numbers. Or they can create their dinnertime annoyances via disposable cellphones, using prepaid minutes and then tossing the phone.

Complaints matter

With billing records and other methods, authorities can still trace violating calls to their sources—but that requires a costly and time-consuming investigation. And that explains why, despite more than 1 million complaints filed annually on the Do Not Call website, most consumers never hear back from the FTC.

Nevertheless, “the most valuable thing you can do is file a complaint at our website,” says Lois Greisman, the FTC official who oversees the Do Not Call list.

“Complaints matter, because we use them cumulatively to look for trends and entities we believe are involved in telemarketing fraud, and do not comply with Do Not Call privacy requirements.” Currently, complaints have been filed by fewer than 3 percent of registered telephone numbers, she says.

However, Greisman acknowledges the FTC typically goes after only “the biggest and baddest targets” and doesn’t investigate individual complaints. “There is no magic number of complaints that will trigger an investigation,” she says.

What can you do?

• Many states operate their own Do Not Call lists. Registering your phone with the one in your state may be more effective at stopping unwanted calls from local businesses, which are off the FTC’s radar.

• If you do end up talking with a telemarketer, try to elicit as much information as possible. You can often obtain the name and location of calling businesses by feigning interest in their products or services. This gives you a better chance of knowing the caller’s true identity for an accurate complaint.

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