In response to a significant number of consumer complaints about unwanted telemarketing calls, legislators around the country created state-specific Do Not Call Registries, which were the first steps in preventing “cold calls” or unwanted solicitations. In 2003, the Federal Trade Commission started the National Do Not Call Registry, which is aimed at removing registered phone numbers from telemarketing databases to eliminate or at least reduce such calls. More than 70 percent of Americans had registered phone numbers with the service by 2007.
The Registry was initially contested by some states, including Colorado, which believed it to be an undue burden on the free speech rights of businesses.
In 2016 there were approximately 2.4 billion telemarketing calls made to private phones per month. This number is possible because those who make the calls are using technology that not only dials many numbers at a time but that can mask the origin of the outgoing call. It is illegal to use automatic dialers to call cell phones in the U.S. but many of these disreputable telemarketing companies do it regardless.
While some legitimate companies use telemarketing techniques, the proliferation of scam phone calls in recent years has dwarfed legitimate callers. Some scam artists say they are from the Internal Revenue Service or the local sheriff’s department and demand money immediately; others may pose as a family member in trouble and in need of emergency funds for an accident or bail money.
Infotracer.com provides the ability to do reverse-phone number lookups, allowing people to find out if a missed call was a scammer or a legitimate contact. This way, an individual may engage a blocking service or product to eliminate future nuisance calls from the same number.
The most common type of telemarketing call is a credit card offer, with 122.9 million outgoing calls in the month of March, 2018; second most common starts with the caller saying, “there’s a problem with your credit card,” which was used 82.5 million times the same month, and the third most common is in regard to student loan debt or consolidation, which was used over 70 million times the same month.
The FTC says that technology and the international location of many robo calls makes it challenging to find and prosecute those who disobey the law, but in 2014 Sprint Corporation was fined $7.5 million for making calls and sending text messages to consumers who asked to be exempted. Another enforcement action was taken against a Florida-based company called USA Vacation Station that made millions of unauthorized sales calls. They were initially fined $1.2 million but that was reduced to under $20,000 on appeal. Dish Network, a television service, was fined $280 million for illegal telemarketing calls in 2017.
This New York Times article says we shouldn’t answer calls from numbers we don’t recognize – which is getting harder because robocall technology now allows telemarketing companies to use phone numbers that appear similar to our own, making us think someone familiar is calling.
If you do answer a call that turns out to be a scam or telemarketer, don’t say anything before hanging up. Some of them are able to use your response to “Can you hear me?” to defraud you. In fact, even waiting until the end of the sales pitch to demand the removal of your number from their database may result in more calls instead of fewer calls, experts say.
If you get repeated calls from one number, you may file a complaint with the FTC, but be aware that they receive more than 3 million complaints a month and it’s unlikely you’ll get a callback.