A growing number of state and local residents are registering their phone numbers with the National Do Not Call Registry in the hopes of avoiding pesky and unwanted telemarketing calls.
At the end of fiscal year 2013, there were about 8.8 million actively registered phone numbers in Ohio, up 200,000 from the prior year, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Registrations have soared nationwide.
As registrations increased, complaints to the FTC about unwelcome telemarketing and robocalls declined across the region and state. But tens of thousands of residents are still receiving irksome calls even after seeking relief through the registry.
“I’ve been getting calls from different (companies) wanting money,” said Martha Knox-Stanfill, a Montgomery County resident who registered her number almost a year ago. “It starts in the morning and goes throughout the day.”
Officials said consumers can report companies to the FTC and Ohio Attorney General that violate the do not call rules, and they can face litigation and hefty financial consequences.
“Companies can be liable for a civil penalty of up to $16,000 for each call,” said Bikram Bandy, the FTC’s Do Not Call program coordinator.
The National Do Not Call Registry this year had 223.4 million actively registered U.S. phone numbers, including 1.1 million from the 937 area code and 1.2 million from the 513 area code.
Registrations locally, statewide and nationally have steadily increased each year.
Ohioans can limit the number of telemarketing calls they receive by joining the registry, which makes it illegal for most telemarketers to contact consumers by landline or cell phone, according to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
Under federal law, telemarketers must search the registry every 31 days and delete registered telephone numbers from their call lists.
Consumers who continue to receive telemarketing calls after registering can file a complaint with the FTC. Telemarketers who ignore the rules of the registry can face fines of $16,000 for each call they make.
Beavercreek resident Shirley Docken said the number of calls she received from telemarketers plummeted after she registered her phone number.
But in recent months, her phone has been ringing more frequently because of unwanted sales calls.
“They died down for a while, but it’s Christmas season and I’ve got a lot more,” Docken said. “There are several numbers that keep calling almost to the point of being a nuisance call.”
Docken said she receives telemarketing calls every day, and she screens her calls and does not pick up if the number comes up as “unknown” on her caller ID.
Docken said she would never purchase a product or service from a telemarketer, because she does not trust the offers.
Companies that have a past business relationship with a consumer can be exempt from the rules of the National Do Not Call.
Companies can contact customers for up to 18 months from their last purchase, payment or delivery, even if the customer’s number appears on the National Do Not Call Registry, according to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
Companies in which customers made a business inquiry or submitted an application can continue calling for three month. But companies must stop calling if customers request for communications to cease.
Consumers who have registered their phone numbers with the Do Not Call Registry should be very wary of any companies that call them if they do not have an established business relationship, Bandy said.
“A lot of the Do Not Call violations are by companies that are trying to rip consumers off, because they are not complying with telemarketing laws, which are not that hard to comply with,” Bandy said. “If they are not complying with those laws, they are probably breaking other laws too.”
Officials urge consumers to report telemarketers who violate the rules of the Do Not Call Registry to the FTC or the Ohio Attorney General.
Last fiscal year, the FTC received almost 170,000 complaints about unwanted and pre-recorded sales calls from Ohio residents who joined the registry, including 25,773 from the 513 area code and 17,465 from the 937 area code, the data show.
The FTC has a very aggressive law enforcement program for do not call violators, but it lacks the resources to pursue action against all of the responsible parties, Bandy said
Consumers should learn their rights so they can recognize when a sales call is illegal.
Telemarketers are prohibited from using deceptive and abusive sales methods, and they are forbidden from calling before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m.
Telemarketers must promptly tell consumers who they are calling for and if the call is a sales call or charitable solicitation, officials said.
Telemarketers must disclose all important information about the goods or services they are peddling and terms of the sale, officials said. They are forbidden from lying about any terms of a sales offer.
Telemarketers must transmit caller ID information and are prohibited from blocking this information.
Ohioans are urged to hang up immediately when they receive an unsolicited call, especially when it is a robocall. Consumers can contact their wireless carriers and ask the companies to block telephone numbers belonging to telemarketers, but there can be costs involved with activity.
Do Not Call information
Ohioans can register their phone numbers free of charge at www.donotcall.gov or by calling toll-free 1-888-382-1222.
Consumers who want to register by phone must call from the number they wish to register.
To report violations of do not call rules, consumers can visit the donotcall.gov website or call 1-877-382-4357.