How to Block Phone and Fax Telemarketers
Do you receive phone calls from telemarketers? Or calls from a fax machine? Or odd calls in which no one answers on the other end? Or perhaps a recorded voice tells you to hold on the line?
These are typically calls from telemarketers autodialers and fax programs. Autodialers can produce, store, and dial telephone numbers using a random or sequential number generator. Often, they dial every number in a sequence, hoping that some are valid and a person will answer so they can try to sell something to them. These are telephone solicitations; a telephone call that acts as an uninvited advertisement. The use of autodialers, including predictive dialers, often results in abandoned calls ' hang-ups or "dead air."
Autofax programs work the same way, hoping to connect with a fax machine and send through a scam about stock market tips. Once they do connect, they add the fax number to their list of valid fax machines for future pitches. You've probably seen the stack of sleazy fax advertisements by your company fax machine.
See this page for Rules and Laws That Telemarketers Must Follow.
If you do listen to the pitch, see this page for characteristics of a telemarketing scam.
Prevention: What can you do to defend yourself from these?
1. Block Phone Calls from Telemarketers: Get on the National Do Not Call List
The national Do-Not-Call list protects home voice or personal wireless phone numbers (not business numbers). The national Do-Not-Call list prohibits telemarketers from making telephone solicitations to your home phone number or numbers, including any personal wireless phone numbers. But you must register for this to be in effect! There are other important exceptions, too - see the exceptions here.
You can register your home phone number(s) on the national Do-Not-Call list by phone or by Internet at no cost. For more information and to add your home phone number to the national Do-Not-Call list via the Internet, see this page. To register by phone, call 1-888-382-1222 (voice) or 1-866-290-4236 (TTY). You must call from the phone number you wish to register.
State Do-Not-Call Lists
Additionally, many states now have statewide do-not-call lists for residents in their respective states. Contact your state's consumer protection office or public utilities commission to see if the state has such a list. Contact information for these offices usually can be found in the blue pages or government section of your local telephone directory. (we're working on creating a listing here)
Company-Specific Do-Not-Call Lists
Whether or not your home phone number is registered on the national Do-Not-Call list, the FCC requires a person or entity placing voice telephone solicitations to your home to maintain a record of your direct request to that caller not to receive future telephone solicitations from that person or entity. A record of your do-not-call request must be maintained for five years. This request should also stop calls from affiliated entities if you would reasonably expect them to be included, given the identification of the caller and the product being advertised. Unless your home phone number or number(s) is registered on the national Do-Not-Call list, however, you must make a separate do-not-call request to each telemarketer from whom you do not wish to receive calls.
When you receive telephone solicitation calls, clearly state that you want to be added to the caller's do-not-call list. You may want to keep a list of those persons or businesses that you have asked not to call you. Tax-exempt non-profit organizations are not required to keep do-not-call lists.
2. Block Fax Calls
The FCC has separate rules that prohibit unsolicited fax advertisements (under most circumstances) which are more complicated. In general, to stop unwanted fax advertisements, you must make an "opt-out" request which must:
identify the fax number or numbers to which it relates; and
be sent to the telephone number, fax number, Web site address, or e-mail address identified on the fax advertisement.
If you change your mind about receiving fax advertisements, you can subsequently grant express permission to receive faxes from a particular sender, orally or in writing.
This won't necessarily stop the faxes - especially if they are scammers deliberately violating the law, but it does give you the right to sue them. See this page for much more information about your rights about junk faxes and how to stop make an opt-out request.
Note: Telemarketers must provide a caller ID
If you have caller ID, a telemarketer is required to transmit or display its phone number and, if available, its name or the name and phone number of the company for which it is selling products. The display must include a phone number that you can call during regular business hours to ask that the company no longer call you. This rule applies even if you have an EBR (established business relationship, see below) with the company, and even if you have not registered your home phone number(s) on the national Do-Not-Call list. You may remember that before these rules took effect, the words "private," "out of area," or "unavailable" might have appeared on the Caller ID display.
How to file a complaint
The FCC can issue warning citations and impose fines against companies violating or suspected of violating the do-not-call rules, but does not award individual damages. If you receive a telephone solicitation that you think violates any of these rules, you can file a complaint with the FCC. You can file your complaint
emailing firstname.lastname@example.org; or
calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY; or
faxing 1-866-418-0232; or
writing to: Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries & Complaints Division
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554.
What to Include in Your Complaint
The best way to provide all the information needed for the FCC to process your complaint is to complete fully the on-line complaint Form 1088. The Form 1088 first asks you to select the specific telemarketing activity that you are complaining about, then directs you to a section of the form that asks specific questions relevant to that activity. If you do not use the on-line complaint Form 1088, your complaint, at a minimum, should indicate:
Sue the Telemarketers!
Some states permit you to file law suits in state court against persons or entities violating the do-not-call rules. You may be awarded $500 in damages or actual monetary loss, whichever is greater. The amount may be tripled if you are able to show that the caller violated the rules willfully and knowingly. Filing a complaint with the FCC does not prevent you from also bringing a suit in state court.
States also can bring a civil law suit against any person or entity that engages in a pattern or practice of violating the TCPA or FCC rules. You can contact your state Attorney General's office or consumer protection agency with particular complaints, or to encourage such suits.
The term does not include calls or messages placed with your express prior permission, by or on behalf of a tax-exempt non-profit organization, or from a person or organization with which you have an established business relationship (EBR).
Here's the key: an EBR exists if you have made an
regarding products or services offered by the person or
business involved. Generally, you may put an end to that relationship by
telling the person or entity not to place any more solicitation calls to
your home. Also, the law stipulates that the EBR may only be in effect for
18 months after your last business transaction OR three months since your
last inquiry or application. After these time periods, calls placed to your
home phone number(s) by that person or entity are considered telephone
solicitations which subject to the do-not-call rules.
Autodialers and other calls using artificial or prerecorded voice messages are allowed in the following circumstances:
emergency calls needed to ensure the consumer's health and safety;
calls for which you have given prior express consent;
calls that don't include or introduce any unsolicited advertisements or constitute telephone solicitations;
calls by, or on behalf of, tax-exempt non-profit organizations; or
calls from entities with which you have an EBR.
Pranks, Harassing and Misdials
While registering home phone numbers on the national Do-Not-Call list prohibits telephone solicitations, this action does not make prank or harassing calls unlawful. For problems with such calls, contact your local law enforcement agencies.
Sample complaints from consumers:
Received January 15, 2008:
"I have been getting phone calls all day from this phone number
1-718-841-7327. When I try to call this number is get a message that says:
Call Central This number is not in service at this time."
Googling this number found this page:
"The same thing happened to me today as well. After the 4th time, my wife answered "If you don't identify yourself, I'm calling the Police for harassment"...they identified themselves as "Accent Energy on behalf of National Grid" and claim they have an automatic dialer issue. I hope this helps."
We searched for Accent Energy and discovered that their website is down, but we found their phone number (800.928.7775) from a cached version. We suggested that this person call this number and asking if 718-841-7327 is theirs ' and work up the management ladder there until someone owns up to it.
Other Rules for Automatic Telephone Dialing Systems and Artificial or Prerecorded Voice Calls
The FCC has specific rules for automatic telephone dialing systems, also known as "autodialers." These devices can be particularly annoying and generate many consumer complaints. The rules regarding automatically dialed and prerecorded calls apply whether or not you have registered your home phone number(s) on the national Do-Not-Call list.
Except for emergency calls or calls made with the prior express consent of the person being called, autodialers and any artificial or prerecorded voice messages may not be used to contact numbers assigned to:
any emergency telephone line;
the telephone line of any guest or patient room at a hospital, health care facility, home for the elderly, or similar establishment;
a paging service, wireless phone service (including both voice calls and text messages), or other commercial mobile radio service; or
any other service for which the person being called would be charged for the call.
In addition, the FCC's rules prohibit the use of autodialers in a way that ties up two or more lines of a multi-line business at the same time. All artificial or prerecorded telephone messages must state, at the beginning, the identity of the business, individual, or other entity that is responsible for initiating the call. If a business is responsible for initiating the call, the name under which the entity is registered to conduct business with the State Corporation Commission (or comparable regulatory authority) must be stated. During or after the message, the caller must give the telephone number (other than that of the autodialer or prerecorded message player that placed the call) of the business, other entity, or individual that made the call so that you can call during regular business hours to ask that the company no longer call you. The number provided may not be a 900 number or any other number for which charges exceed local or long distance charges.
Autodialers that deliver a recorded message must release the called party's telephone line within five seconds of the time that the calling system receives notification that the called party's line has hung up. In some areas, you could experience a delay before you can get a dial tone again. Your local telephone company can tell you if there is a delay in your area.
Telemarketers must ensure that predictive dialers abandon no more than three percent of all calls placed and answered by a person. A call will be considered "abandoned" if it is not transferred to a live sales agent within two seconds of the recipient's greeting.