Lots Of Static Over FTC's 'Do Not Call' Registry

Although the Federal Trade Commission’s “Do Not Call” list contains 209 million phone numbers, including 89 million mobile devices, more folks than ever are complaining about “unwanted phone solicitations,” reports the AP’s Jennifer C. Kerr in a widely published piece Monday, “raising questions about how well the … federal registry is working.”

"It's absolutely working," Lois Greisman, associate director of the FTC’s marketing practices division tells Kerr while admitting that "the proliferation of robocalls creates a challenge for us."

Indeed, robocall complaints to the FTC jumped from about 65,000 in October 2010 to more than 212,000 in April 2012. They are “hard to trace and cheap to make,” as Kerr points out. “Millions of calls can be blasted out in a matter of hours, bombarding people in a struggling economy with promises of debt assistance and cheap loans.”



More general complaints about telemarketers also rose, from about 71,000 to 182,000, during that period.

Legitimate telemarketers don’t use robocalls, right, so why should these figures matter to  them except that “Rachel from cardholder services” is disrupting quality time at your homes, too? (“Ah, the cherished dinner hour,” as Consumerist.com’s Mary Beth Quirk puts it. “Peace, quiet and if that stupid telemarketer doesn't stop calling I am seriously going to throw my fork really violently at something.”)

Because “they give a bad name to telemarketers and hurt everybody,” Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president of government affairs at the Direct Marketing Association, tells [North Jersey] Record’s “Your Money’s Worth” columnist Kevin DeMarrais.

Robocalls weren’t all that big a problem when the list got going in 2003, according to the FTC’s Greisman. But "in part because of technology and in part because of greater competitiveness in the marketplace, they have become the marketing vehicle of choice for fraudsters," she says.

The FTC has been on the case, however, shutting down SBN Peripherals (aka Asia Pacific Telecom) -- the “the Mother of All Robocalling Rings,” as a Time headline put it –- earlier this year and seizing $3 million in assets in the process, for one example.

SBN used two standard openings: cheery greetings from either “Stacey at Account Holder Services” or “Rachel at Cardholder Services,” Time’s Martha C. White reported at the time. So why does it feel like you just heard from Rachel last night?

“While SBN and its related companies might have been Rachel’s biggest launching pad, it was hardly her only one,” writes White’s colleague Mitch Lipka. “Rachel is a sort of generic name recording that different scammers use,” FTC spokesman Frank Dorman tells him. “It’s not just one big operation.”

The FTC also says that fewer telemarketers are checking the registry –- from 65,000 in 2007 to about 34,000 last year.

In a variation of Willie Sutton’s line that he robbed banks because “that’s where the money is,” some “scammers have been making phone calls claiming to represent the National Do Not Call Registry,” according to a notice in red type at the top of the service’s website. “The calls claim to provide an opportunity to sign up for the Registry.” Don’t do it! The FTC warns.

Despite their increasing popularity, not all calls are of the robo variety, of course –- or from “scammers” and “fraudsters.” Some are from what some cynics see as even a lower form of life: Politicians.

Along with calls with “messages that are purely informational,” political calls and calls from certain healthcare providers such as pharmacies are exempt from the regulation that “businesses now need your written permission before they can call you with prerecorded telemarketing message,” according to the FTC.

Josh Kerns of MyNorthwest.com spoke to a reformed telemarketer who is now a television producer about how consumers should deal with an actual human being on the other end of the line.

"The first thing I want you to do is remember this person doesn't want to be a telemarketer any more than you want to be called by a telemarketer,” says Andrew Walsh, “Just don't be mean." Hanging up or shouting are not good options from a tactical standpoint either, as that human being holds all the power. He or she determines whether or not you are placed on the “call back” list.

"Talk to the person like a human being,” Walsh tells Kerns. “Don't take out all of your day's anger and frustration. If you scream at me, I'm marking you as a 'call back.'"

As for getting rid of all those frustrations, try yelling back at the news anchor. It may seem to have the same effect as putting your name on the Do Not Call list but Brain Williams doesn’t call back.

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