Bogus e-mails have cell users signing on for do-not-call list

Posted: Thursday, July 20, 2006

Kenai’s Crystal Choates can’t afford to waste her cell phone minutes talking to telemarketers.

Choates is an independent mental health advocate and fields calls at all hours of the day and night from clients. She pays for 1,200 anytime minutes each month on her ACS Wireless plan, but even without fielding bogus calls she spent $70 last month for going over her limit.

“Sometimes all (a client) needs is to talk to someone,” Choates said. “I have to answer my phone.”

So when Choates received an e-mail from a friend about the imminent release of cell phone numbers to telemarketers, she was concerned.

“The last thing I need to be charged for are things like that — I can’t afford it,” she said.

The e-mail directed her to register her cell number on the National Do Not Call Registry, a list of numbers telemarketers are forbidden to call compiled by the Federal Trade Commission.

Putting your number on the list is free, it stays there for five years and if a telemarketer does solicit you at the registered number, you can file a complaint.

Choates registered immediately and said at least three friends did the same.

She needn’t have bothered.

There is no national directory of cell phone numbers that will soon be given to telemarketers — or anyone else for that matter.

According to the myth-busting Web site, the e-mail Choates received is one of several versions that circulate most often during June and January with the dire news of the pending number release.

There is no wireless directory, but a Portland, Ore., company called Qsent was contracted by several cell phone companies to create one. It hasn’t made one yet, though, and when (and if) it does, telemarketers wouldn’t be able to see it. In fact, no one would.

Qsent’s Wireless 411 would provide a list of cell phone numbers for use in the national 411 service that currently gives out land line numbers. Qsent’s plan would make cell phone listings voluntary.

Cell phone users would have to ask for their number to be made available to people who call 411. Telemarketers wouldn’t have access to a list, users could pull their number off the directory anytime, and the numbers would not be included in any printed directory.

Despite that — and despite the fact that the service doesn’t yet exist — the e-mails continue to circulate.

According to Patrick Cox, Qsent’s chief executive officer, he gets calls about Wireless 411 “nearly every day,” which is part of the reason the company has several pages explaining the project on its Web site.

The fear the project has generated also is part of the reason it hasn’t started. The idea was first floated in 2004.

“We have no launch date, and we have no time frame for when we will even announce a launch date,” Cox said Tuesday. “It’s not on hold, but it’s not really going anywhere, either.”

Choates was not the only area resident to receive bogus scares stemming from Wireless 411.

Jake Stutsman sells cell phones and cell phone plans at Radio Shack in Kenai and said it isn’t a concern for his customers.

“I’ve never been asked about it,” Stutsman said.

Stutsman himself did catch wind of the phony news, though. A friend’s mother saw him one day, spilled the news and offered the registry’s number.

He said he thought it was probably bogus, but decided to register his number, anyway.

“I figured it can’t hurt,” Stutsman said.

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