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'Do not call' list won't stop phone from ringing, but will slow telemarketing interruptions

Posted: Friday, October 17, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) The much-anticipated national do-not-call list is in operation, raising the hopes of millions of Americans who want to be rid of pesky telemarketing calls.

But many who signed up may be disappointed when some sales calls keep coming. That's because there are loopholes in the regulations that will allow some phone sellers to call. Meanwhile, the telemarketing industry which temporarily blocked the list's implementation last month is still challenging the rules in court.

Consumer experts say those who join the do-not-call registry likely will see a drop-off in unwanted phone interruptions in coming weeks and can take steps to reduce them further. Consumers may also want to take evasive action now to prevent marketers from switching from their phones to their mailboxes.

''Certainly they'll look for other ways to get their pitches across,'' said Ari Schwartz, associate director of the nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, D.C. ''But people can try to opt out. The idea is to give consumers control.''

More than 50 million Americans already have signed up for the do-not-call registry maintained by the Federal Trade Commission, which predicts that more than 60 million residential phone numbers will be on the list before year's end. Consumers can add their numbers online at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 888-382-1222.

Companies selling goods and services by phone must delete registered numbers from their call lists or face fines of up to $11,000 per violation.

Still, many telemarketers will be able to continue calling because of exemptions in the rules. Charities and other nonprofit groups, such as college alumni associations and public radio stations, are exempt, as are pollsters and political campaigners.

In addition, a company may call consumers if they have bought, leased or rented from the firm in the previous 18 months or if they have inquired about or applied for something during the past three months.

In other words, Americans who ask for a store catalog or respond to a mail-in rebate offer may be setting themselves up for calls they hoped to avoid.

Schwartz of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an advocacy organization that works on privacy issues, said consumers whether on the do-not-call list or not can take advantage of the new rules to reduce unwanted sales calls.

''If any organization calls, even those with exemptions, tell them, 'Please add me to your do-not-call list,' and they'll have to comply,'' Schwartz said.

He also suggested consumers write or call magazine publishers and companies they do business with regularly and ask them not to distribute their personal information.

And consumers should be vigilant in avoiding pre-checked ''put me on your list'' boxes when filling out Internet forms, Schwartz said. His group offers other tips at its Web site www.opt-out.cdt.org.

Americans who continue to receive unwanted sales calls can file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, said FTC spokeswoman Cathy MacFarlane.

''People need to keep records on this,'' she said. ''We need the date of the call and either the name of the business organization that is calling or the caller's phone number.''

MacFarlane added that people who move will have to register their new home phone numbers with the FTC.

Many believe that marketers who face reduced phone sales prospects will turn to other means to get to consumers, including faxes and the mail.

Faxes are covered by the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, which bans faxing ads without prior consent from recipients. The Federal Communications Commission polices the act and will be assisting the FTC in enforcing the do-not-call registry.

What about the mail?

Consumers who want to reduce unsolicited mail can register with the Direct Marketing Association, which makes a list available to its members as well as businesses that request it.

Written requests to be removed from mailing lists which must include name, home address and signature can be sent to Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, PO. Box 643, Carmel, N.Y. 10512. Or consumers can register online at www.dmaconsumers.org, but this requires at $5 fee.

To opt out of preapproved credit card offers, consumers can call 888-5-OPTOUT (888-567-8688), which will get their names off the lists maintained by the three major credit reporting agencies for two years. Those who want to opt out indefinitely must request a form from the call center and mail it back.



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