You don't have to unplug the phone
November 8, 2001: 11:31 a.m. ET
Sick of telemarketers? Take these steps to make them stop calling.
By Annelena Lobb
NEW YORK (CNNmoney) - How many family dinners, good books, or soothing baths have you had interrupted by sales calls? According to the American Teleservices Association, about 10 billion telemarketing calls are placed every year. To the people who've rushed to the phone expecting an important call, only to find themselves listening to a scripted sales pitch, that sounds like about 10 billion calls too many.|
Not surprisingly, statistics also show that the majority of people who receive telemarketing calls would rather be left alone. According to Private Citizen, Inc., a consumer organization that fights the direct marketing industry, 84 percent of the U.S. population dislikes telemarketing calls.
"If the most hated group in this country right now is the Taliban, then I'd say telemarketers are number two," said Bob Arkow, president of Californians Against Telephone Solicitation (CATS). "People say they hate lawyers, but telemarketers have also developed a reputation as the bad guys."
Some businesses are capitalizing on the growing desire by consumers to be left alone in their homes. Capital One now offers a "no-hassle" credit card that features a low APR, no annual fees -- and no telemarketing calls. A recent TV commercial even shows a family taking the phone off the hook to enjoy Campbell's Supper Bakes, and ends with "Sorry, telemarketers - Campbell's is coming to dinner."
Although sales calls may seem unavoidable, you don't have to unplug your phones to stop them. If you want to receive fewer calls from hawkers, here are some tips.
What to do when they call
First of all, deal with the companies that already call you.
It may go against your most deep-seated urges, but don't just hang up when you receive a telemarketing call. Instead, Robert Bulmash, president and founder of Private Citizen, recommends that people recite the following:
"Put me on your do-not-call list, share my request with all affiliates, and send me a written copy of your do-not-call policy."
If you say it, they're required by law to do it. All telemarketers must keep a do-not-call list. If the company also calls on behalf of other organizations, they have to share your request with those affiliates. Finally, these companies are also required to provide a written copy of their policy upon request.
If the telemarketer fails to take these steps, you can sue. According to Junkbusters Corporation, a New Jersey-based group dedicated to stopping all unwanted consumer solicitations, most telemarketers can be sued fairly easily in small claims court. It will cost you $40 to $100 in filing fees, but if the ruling is in your favor, you could receive $500 to $1500.
These requests are the most effective ways to stop future junk calls from telemarketers who've already got your number. Hanging up or yelling at the person at the other end of the line won't help.
"The Seinfeld tactic of asking the telemarketer for his home phone number is not really going to solve the problem," said Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters Corp. "The eighteen-year-old at the other end of the line is probably just trying to pay his way through college. You may have just gotten out of the shower, but it's unhelpful to get angry at them."
What to do before they call
Here are some strategies to prevent future junk calls.
Contact the Direct Marketing Association's Telephone Preference Service (see below for mailing address). They keep a no-call list that they send out to their members. Write and ask that they put you on the list.
For a membership fee of $20, you can join Private Citizen. They send their do-not-call list to over 1,500 national and local junk call firms and list sellers across the United States. Bulmash said membership in Private Citizen reduces the number of junk phone calls you receive by 75 percent.
Contact your state's attorney general's office to see if your state has its own no-call list. Some states' lists are more effective than others; some charge you and others are free. Find out where your state stands.
It'll cost you money, but unlisting your phone number does help. But you should also contact your local telephone company to see if you can unlist your address; many do so at no charge. Taking your address out of the telephone book can cut down on sales calls because many telemarketers use reverse directory services to get your number -- services that list phone numbers by address, rather than by name. Taking your number out of the white pages won't stop all calls, though. Organizations that do opinion surveys may use randomly generated telephone numbers, for example.
Also ask your telephone company if they share names and numbers. If so, tell them not to share yours.
Finally, use common sense. Keep your phone number away from businesses, publications and non-profit groups. Don't write it on checks, coupons or warranty cards. Don't hesitate to tell someone who needs your number -- like your real estate agent or your doctor -- not to release it.
Telephone Preference Service
Direct Marketing Association
P.O. Box 9014
Farmingdale, NY 11735-9014