Cell phone numbers aren't going public

-A A +A
By Carol A. Clark

Contrary to E-mail circulating the Internet, threats of a telemarketing onslaught commencing next month are not true. Cell phone numbers are not going public, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which manages the National Do Not Call Registry.

Telemarketers do occasionally reach cell phone numbers. To prevent this, as well as land line calls, register the numbers on the National Do Not Call list at 1-888-382-1222. Requests must be made from the intended cell phone or land line number as requests from any other phone disallows the request.

It takes about 20 seconds and blocks that phone's number permanently due to the Do-Not-Call Improvement Act of 2007, which became law last February.

Once a phone number is registered, telemarketers have up to 31 days to stop calling. After 31 days, complaints can be filed at 1-888-382-1222 or to www.donotcall.gov. Be prepared to give the name or telephone number of the company violating the do not call order.

Placing a number on the National Do Not Call Registry will stop most telemarketing calls, but not all. Because of limitations in the jurisdiction of the FTC and Federal Communications Commission, calls from or on behalf of political organizations, charities, and telephone surveyors are permitted, as they are not included in the definition of “telemarketing.”

Calls from companies with which a consumer has an existing business relationship also are permitted.

By purchasing something from a company, a business relationship is established, according to the FTC. As a result, that company may call for up to 18 months after the last purchase, delivery or last payment made by the consumer, unless the consumer asks the company not to call. In that case, the company must honor that request and if not, are subject to a fine up to $11,000.

An established business relationship with a company also is created when a consumer makes an inquiry to a company, or submits an application. This kind of established business relationship exists for three months. During this time, the company can call unless the consumer asks them not to.

Business and fax numbers are not covered by the National Do Not Call Registry.

The FTC is the nation's consumer protection agency that goes after telemarketers who violate the law. It recently settled charges against a California telemarketer, Voice-Mail Broadcasting Corporation (VMBC), which made more than 46 million unlawful prerecorded calls.

According to the complaint filed by the Department of Justice, since October 2003, the company used automated dialers to “blast” consumers with prerecorded telemarketing pitches.

The calls pushed products from debt-consolidation services to mortgage brokerage services and other retail and financial services. When VMBC’s telemarketing calls were answered by consumers rather than answering machines or voicemail systems, VMBC either immediately hung up, leaving consumers with “dead air,” or played a prerecorded message.

Such calls violate the FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), which limits telemarketers’ use of prerecorded messages by requiring that calls answered by a person be connected to a sales representative within two seconds.

The proposed consent decree bars VMBC from violating the TSR and imposes a civil penalty of $3 million against the company, of which all but $180,000 will be suspended based on the defendants’ inability to pay. However, VMBC becomes liable for the full amount if the court finds they misrepresented their financial condition.

In November 2007, as part of an FTC Do Not Call enforcement sweep, the Commission filed a complaint and consent decree against Ameriquest Mortgage Company for improperly calling consumers on the Do Not Call Registry whose numbers had been obtained from third-party lead-generators, resulting in a $1 million penalty.

At the same time, the FTC filed a complaint against Global Mortgage Funding, Inc., for making hundreds of thousands of calls to consumers on the registry, failing to transmit the required caller ID information, failing to pay the Do Not Call Registry fees, and improperly abandoning calls made to consumers.

To verify whether a telephone number is listed on the registry, access www.donotcall.gov or call the registry at 1-888-382-1222 (TTY:1-866-290-4236) and follow the prompts.