When the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act of 2003 was passed, it was supposed to herald a new era of silence - as in, no more annoying dinner-time telemarketing calls.
Based on the number of unsolicited calls our household still receives nearly a decade later, however, I'd say the law has been had only mixed success.
True, the sheer volume of calls did drop significantly after we registered our home and cell phone numbers with the Federal Trade Commission's National Do Not Call Registry.
But because so many types of organizations are exempt from the legislation and so many shady companies flout the rules, everyone I know still gets pestered relentlessly.
There are steps you can take to curtail annoying calls; and just as important, ways to avoid falling for telemarketing scams:
First, if you haven't already done so, register your phone numbers with the registry, either online at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 888-382-1222 from each phone you wish to enroll. Although it's illegal for telemarketers to call wireless phones, you may want to register them just in case.
Be aware that certain organizations are exempt from the Do Not Call regulations barring contact. Charities, political organizations, telephone surveyors and companies with which you've done business in the last 18 months (and their affiliates and business partners) are still allowed to contact you unless you specifically request to be removed from their lists.
Telemarketers have up to 31 days to update their lists, so if you're not currently registered it could take that long for calls to cease. After that, you can file complaints about unwanted calls at the Do Not Call website or phone number. Remember, though: Debt collectors may continue to call you, whether or not your number is registered.
Here are a few additional tips for reducing call volume:
* Use Caller ID to screen incoming calls. By law, telemarketers must use some iteration of their business name in their onscreen ID, but many unscrupulous organizations will attempt to "spoof" you by providing misleading identifying information.
* If you don't recognize the name or number you can either take the call or let it go to voicemail. If the line goes dead, that usually means it was a robo-call and there was no live operator available. Either way, you'll likely continue to receive calls unless you take action.
* If a message is left and you think the organization is legitimate, call them back to request being taken off their own internal Do Not Call list, which they're required to maintain by law or face steep fines. If you suspect the call is a scam, go straight to filing a complaint.
* You can also use your phone carrier's call-blocking function to prevent future calls from that number. However, this step won't do much good if someone is harvesting and selling your phone number to multiple telemarketers; plus, many carriers limit the number of callers you can block.
* And finally: You can notify specific sellers in writing that you wish to continue receiving their calls. Just be aware that some marketers may attempt to obtain such consent surreptitiously via innocent-seeming solicitations or emails. This is one more reason why it's important to read every document and email carefully before signing or checking "I agree" to the fine print.
* * *
Jason Alderman directs Visa's financial education programs.