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Do Not Call Registry Rises as Robocalls Drop

Complaints about telemarketing decreased this year but were still numerous

Cell phone showing call from robocall


En español | Nevada earned its nickname as the Silver State because of prospectors who rushed there in the 1800s in hopes of scoring big. But today, the state is attracting another type of get-rich-quick business: unwanted phone calls from telemarketers and robocallers illegally hawking everything under the sun — including solar panels. 

According to a new report from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Nevada led the nation in the year that ended Sept. 30 in the number of complaints about unwanted, abusive or — in some cases — illegal telemarketing calls. Nevadans lodged 77,316 complaints, which is roughly 2,579 complaints for every 100,000 of its residents. The Silver State was followed by Colorado, Arizona, Oregon and New Jersey for the most complaints per capita. 

States with the most Do Not Call Registry complaints

Sarah Peng/AARP

Nationwide, the FTC — which maintains the Do Not Call Registry that allows people to opt out of many telemarketing calls — received 5,780,172 about unwanted telemarketing calls for fiscal year 2018. That number represents a drop from the previous year, when there were 7,157,337 such complaints. With respect to robocalls, which are calls that begin with a prerecorded message when you answer, the number of complaints decreased to roughly 3.8 million in 2018 from 4.5 million the previous year. The report did not give a breakdown on the age of those who complained, nor did it state whether the illegal calls went to landlines or cellular phones.

Complaints to the FTC about robocallers and other telemarketers

Sarah Peng/AARP

During the same period, the total of telephone numbers included in the Do Not Call Registry increased to roughly 235 million lines, up from more than 229 million the previous year. 

For more on how to protect yourself, visit AARP's Fraud Watch Network

FTC officials are reluctant to speculate about the reason for the declines — whether it’s actually fewer illegal calls or a dip in complaints, or what role improved call-blocking devices and services might play. Nationwide, the biggest headaches for consumers were calls about debt reduction, the most common type of call that led to a complaint to the FTC. Next were calls about medical devices and prescriptions, followed by calls from impostors trying to sell an array of goods and services, and then calls touting vacations and time-shares.

“In general, abusive robocalls, the telemarketers, fraudsters and the scammers often call everybody indiscriminately,” said Ian Barlow, the FTC’s Do Not Call program coordinator. “They’re looking for an easy sale or an unwary victim of their fraud.”

Number of people registered on the Do Not Call Registry

Sarah Peng/AARP 

Barlow did offer this advice to consumers who want to cut down the number of calls they get from telemarketers:

  • Place your phone numbers on the FTC’s national Do Not Call Registry. Telemarketing calls to residential landline phone numbers or personal cell numbers that are on the FTC’s registry are in most cases outlawed. Robocalls to any number, even one not in the registry, generally are forbidden unless a recipient has an existing business relationship with a firm or has given written consent for the contact, Barlow said.
  • If you receive an inappropriate call, hang up immediately. “Why give payment or personal information to someone who is calling you illegally?” Barlow asked.
  • Report abusive calls to the FTC. That step will help law enforcement better target their efforts to protect consumers, Barlow said. Whether or not your number is on the registry and you wish to report an unwanted telemarketing call, you may file a complaint on the website or call 888-382-1222 toll-free.
  • Consider computer apps and other devices and services that aim to halt to those irritating, all-too-commonplace calls.

Even if your number is on the Do Not Call Registry, some telemarketing calls and robocalls still may be allowed, according to an FTC spokesman. Those situations include most charitable solicitations, legitimate survey calls, political calls, informational calls such as updates on school closures, and debt collection calls, the spokesman said.

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