A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Is there any surefire way to stop telemarketing calls?

September 27, 1996

Dear Cecil:

After much inquiry and research I have reached a dead end as to how to get my home phone number taken off all telemarketing and tele-fund-raising call lists, locally and nationally. Even after I tell callers who want donations for local causes to stop calling me, the calls persist — and seem to multiply!

I've searched for some sort of national "do not call" list and have only come up with a lame address in Farmingdale, New York. That was three months ago with no reply.

My local Better Business Bureau is useless; they referred me to the above do-not-call dead end. The state consumer-affairs bureau claims there is nothing I can do to prevent these persistent invasions of privacy, short of paying for an unlisted number.

My challenge to you is this: come up with a FOR REAL way to force phone solicitors of every type (commercial and "charitable") to TAKE ME OFF THEIR LISTS!

Cecil replies:

Damn, my magic wand is just not working. Knew I should have fixed that timing belt.

I can't promise miracles. The methods you claim don't work will get your name taken off a lot of lists if you're patient. But if the guys at Joe's Charitable Trust find your name in the book and call, it's not like I can get the FBI to send in a SWAT team.

Here's pretty much the sum total of telemarketing defenses that don't involve spending money or getting sued: Write to the lame address in Farmingdale, as follows: Telephone Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, PO Box 9014, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9014. Include your name, address, and telephone number (with area code).

The DMA is a national association of direct mail, telemarketing, and other such outfits. The names are compiled into a "delete file" that's made available to business subscribers in January, April, July, and October. Among these businesses are the major service bureaus from whom telemarketers purchase phone lists.

Registration with TPS is good for five years. At present no acknowledgment is sent. If you move or change phone numbers you should reregister.

The drawbacks of TPS are:

1. It doesn't work fast enough to suit some people. It can take as long as three months for your name to be added to the delete list, and it takes longer still for TPS subscribers to update their databases. The DMA says you should see the volume of calls diminish within three to six months.

2. It doesn't affect automatic sequential dialing systems, the kind that play recorded messages. We're working on a solution for these guys. It involves Uzis.

3. It doesn't affect annoying local small fry, few of whom participate in national name-removal programs. Many politicians don't participate either. Invoke the power of the federal government. OK, it's not the FBI, but the Federal Trade Commission did promulgate a Telemarketing Sales Rule effective December 31, 1995. Among other things this rule requires all telemarketers to keep an "in-house suppress list." If telemarketers call you, you can demand that they add your name to their suppress lists, commonly referred to as do-not-call lists, and never bug you again.

I've tried this a time or two and it seems to work. Should the SOBs call again, though, get the caller's name, company name, and address (or at least as much information as you can — feign interest in whatever they're flogging and wheedle it out of the bastards). Then report 'em to the FTC, Bureau of Consumer Protection, Washington, D.C. 20580. Include the time and date of the call(s) and other details. Take advantage of the built-in technology all phone companies now provide to end unwanted solicitations. It's called hanging up. This requires a certain discipline. If a solicitor calls, listen long enough to determine it's not Publishers Clearing House saying you won the million dollars. Hint: If a total stranger says, "Hello, [your name], how are you doing today?" this is not a good sign. Then, without waiting for the other party to stop talking — they never stop talking — repeat the following: "Sorry, not interested." (For good measure throw in KLAATU BARADA NIKTO, that'll really mess 'em up.) Then give 'em the hook. Always works for me.

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