The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there are nearly a quarter of a million people in the U.S. employed as telemarketers. With each one making dozens or hundreds of calls a day, it's no wonder your phone is ringing off the hook. That doesn't even include the thousands of automated robocallers and scammers out there who might drop you a line as well.
Telemarketing has been an annoyance for decades, which is why it's so surprising that the National Do Not Call Registry didn't come into being until 2004. In theory, adding your number to this registry should stop telemarketers from calling you. However, that isn't always the case.
While the Do Not Call registry can cut down your calls substantially, there are exceptions that still let calls through. We'll talk about what those are and what you can do about them.
You also might occasionally hear myths about the Do Not Call Registry about what is and isn't blocked, whether or not cellphones are allowed, rumors that the FTC is about to release your number unless you act right away, and others. We're going to clear up those myths so you know what's going on, and don't accidentally spread information that isn't true.
1. How to sign up for Do Not Call
Joining the Do Not Call Registry is actually very simple. You go to the website https://www.donotcall.gov/ and enter the landline or cellphone number you want on the list. Note that fax numbers are governed under different regulations, so signing them up won't do anything.
After going through a quick email verification, you're done. You can also call 1-888-382-1222 from any phone you want on the list. That's all it takes, and your number stays on the list until you ask for it to be removed or you give up the number.
Warning: You might receive a phone call from someone claiming to work at the Do Not Call Registry or Federal Trade Commission. They'll claim your number isn't listed on Do Not Call and offer to sign you up. Naturally, you just have to provide some personal information.
This is always a scam. Just hang up.
2. What Do Not Call does and doesn't cover
Once you sign up, the Do Not Call list takes you off of for-profit business call lists, but it isn't immediate. Telemarketers only update their lists periodically, so the FTC says it can take up to 31 days to take full effect.
Tip: If you receive an unexpected sales call after you've registered your number, and it has been on the list for 31 days, you can file a complaint. Just go to donotcall.gov or call 1-888-382-1222. Be prepared to provide the date of the call and the company's name or phone number.
On the other hand, political organizations, charities and survey takers are still permitted to call you. Businesses you've bought something from or made a payment to in the last 18 months also have a right to call. When they call, however, just firmly tell them to take you off their list and they have to honor your request, although they might still try to talk you into reconsidering.
Sometimes on a call from a survey company, the caller will ask if they can make a follow-up call. If you agree, then a for-profit company associated with the survey company can call you with a sales pitch. So, don't just ask them to call later to get them off the phone.
You should also be careful when signing up for sweepstakes and free product offers. The fine print may include your permission to receive telemarketing calls from affiliated companies. If you do get telemarketing calls after signing up for a sweepstakes, again just firmly state you want off their list.
Under the Do Not Call rules, most businesses can't hit you with prerecorded telemarketing messages, also called robocalls, without your written permission. Political robocalls and informational robocalls, such as those received from health care providers, banks and schools, are still allowed, though.
3. Cellphones and Do Not Call
Every year or so, a hoax burns like wildfire through email inboxes and social networks warning that all cellphone numbers are about to go public. Register your mobile number right away! It also says there's a deadline to register your cellphone, and, once registered, it only blocks your number for five years.
Strangely enough, the only thing the hoax message gets right is the number to call. For the record, mobile telephone numbers have never been in any danger of being made public or released to telemarketers. Additionally, there has never been a deadline to register your cellphone. And you don't need to renew every five years (this was a rule for landlines that was axed in 2007).
In fact, you don't technically need to sign up your cellphone at all. The FTC says that unsolicited telemarketing calls or robocalls to cellphones are illegal anyway. It's still a good idea to sign up, though, in case the rules ever change.
If you get an unsolicited marketing call on your cellphone, first ask the caller how they got your number and then firmly tell them you don't want to be contacted again. If they call back, file a complaint with the FTC at donotcall.gov or 1-888-382-1222. Again, you'll need to provide information about the date and time of the call, the caller's number and so forth so the FTC can track them down.
One benefit of signing your phones up on the Do Not Call list is that you also stand a better chance of spotting a phone scammer when you aren't wading through legitimate calls, too. That's important as phone scams are the largest type of scam in America.
You should always be suspicious of unsolicited callers. Get more details on the various types of phone scams and how you can avoid being tricked.
Telemarketers and scammers aren't the only ones who can bug you non-stop. Learn how to stop harassing calls and texts from exes, former friends, enemies or anyone else.