Help Decide the Future of Aging. Join the White House’s Live Stream From Cleveland Monday. Learn more

Ask Sid

Screening Out the Telemarketers

Q. How can I distinguish telemarketing calls from those calls I want to answer—before I pick up the phone?

A. Caller ID will provide some clues: When it displays "Call Center" or a charity's name, it's most certainly a telemarketer. "Private" or "Undisclosed" could signal a privacy-seeking acquaintance, but unscrupulous telemarketers also like to hide where they're calling from. Others feign legitimate corporate affiliation (such as your credit card company) by using so-called spoofing services that put a fake name on your caller ID screen.

When I'm not sure, I let my answering machine take the call. Telemarketers rarely leave messages. When they get no answer, they typically move to the next number on their calling list. My real friends and family leave messages, as do legit businesses calling about account issues. (Occasionally scammers pretending to be representing those companies will leave you a message and a call-back number that will link you up to them—so for any return calls, always dial the toll-free number on your statement or card.)

If you do end up on the line with a telemarketer, it's of course always possible to end things promptly with a polite refusal, a request to be taken off the telemarketer's list and a hang-up.

But when harassed by repeat calls, I often opt for the following response: "Hold on while I get the better phone in the other room." Then I go about my business, leaving the caller dangling. Result: After a while, the caller hangs up and doesn't call back. Telemarketers usually have per-hour or per-shift call quotas and they can't waste time waiting.

Sid Kirchheimer writes about health and consumer issues.

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts


Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.


The Cheap Life

Jeff Yeager Cheap Life Ultimate Cheapskate AARP YouTube web series save money

Catch the latest episode of The Cheap Life starring Jeff Yeager, AARP's Ultimate Cheapskate. Watch

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Credit safeguards with AARP® Identity Theft Protection from TrustedID®.

AARP Credit card from Chase

Members can get cash back rewards on purchases with the AARP® Credit Card from Chase.

Man using cell phone outdoors

Members save on monthly service & usage fees and get free activation with Consumer Cellular.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.


Advance your skills. Transform your career.

Explore your learning possibilities.