Do Not Call List Enforcement Receives No Answer

Complaints skyrocket and agency charged with enforcing the law looks to public for a solution.

There are just two weeks until Election Day.

Recent polls would indicate New Jersey has no real contests, which could save residents from those oh-so-annoying robocalls hawking this candidate or that one.

But don't count on it. 

It seems like the political robocalls come no matter what.

Just like the telemarketers.

The difference is that political calls are permitted—of course, politicians passed the law—but traditional telemarketing isn't, at least not from companies with which a person has no business relationship. And commercial robocalls are altogether illegal unless a person has given permission to receive them.

The most recent data from the Federal Trade Commission, charged with enforcing the law, show complaints ballooning—there were 3.8 million in the year ending Sept. 30, compared with 2.3 million just a year earlier.

That shouldn't be surprising, given that fewer companies are even bothering to check the registry—about 28,000 did last year, compared with 52,000 that did in the 2008 fiscal year.

But you probably didn't need to see statistics to know this is true.

Chances are that even if you are on the Do Not Call List, the phone rings incessantly. Offers of credit. Offers to repair credit. Mortgage refinancing. Cancer causes. Law enforcement officers. And a plethora of companies that are going to lower your utility bills.

Caller ID seemed the solution at one point because it lets you choose not to answer those you don't know. But like a horror movie slasher, they just keep trying over and over, day in and day out, at all hours. It seems better to just answer and get it over with. Warn that you are on the do not call list and hear the telemarketers' voices quake in fear as they apologize. Not.

But one shouldn't have to do this. Federal and state laws were supposed to stop these calls.

Save for a few high-profile cases here and there, it seems the authorities are doing little.

Apparently, they, too, feel powerless.

The FTC went so far last week as to offer $50,000 to whoever could come up with the best way to block illegal robocalls. If you're a techie with an idea, please, submit your idea.

Think how many people you would make happy:

FTC data shows 217 million phone numbers are listed on the registry—the population of the United States is roughly 314 million. New Jersey has roughly 7 million registrants and a population of 8.8 million. Phone owners here lodged 148,000 complaints in the fiscal year that just ended. Those are the seventh largest registration rate and the sixth highest complaint rate of all the states.

Until that great anti-telemarketing invention is unleashed, people need to keep complaining about these calls. Sen. Linda R. Greenstein (D-Mercer), sponsor of New Jersey's anti-telemarketing law, recently urged people to report telemarketers to the state Division of Consumer Affairs, although this only applies if the telemarketer was trying to sell them something.

Fines begin at $10,000 for telemarketers who violate the law, including calling someone on the registry or calling before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.

Anyone not already signed up for the list and it's hard to imagine why anyone wouldn't—can register online or by calling 1-888-382-1222. 

On a related issue, the state Assembly took steps last spring to ban unsolicited text message ads. This could prove as hard to enforce as the robocalls ban, but it's a start. The Assembly passed the bill, A1218, with an unusually bipartisan 78-0 vote, but the Senate has yet to consider it.

A similar bill stalled in the upper house during the last legislative session, not a good sign for cell phone users hoping to get relief from annoying and unwanted texts.

Now, if only lawmakers at all levels would agree to stop themselves from siccing robocalls on voters. But it turns out one has. Assemblyman David Wolfe (R-Ocean) has introduced A369. But don't hold your breath waiting for it to pass. The measure has been kicking around Trenton for years and, if anything, has gotten less popular—it has no co-sponsors and no Senate version.

It's wrong for politicians to exempt themselves from the rules telemarketers are supposed to follow. But if allowing robocalls for Romney or Obama, Kyrillos or Menendez, Christie or whoever for a week twice a year is the price of peace for the other 50 weeks of the year from promises of lower gas prices and mortgage savings, most people would probably gladly pay it.

John Q Public October 22, 2012 at 02:46 AM
I used to get angry when getting these calls, now I just don't answer the phone if I don't recognize the number -- If I happen to pickup by accident and it is a telemarketer I just tell them they have the wrong number and then abruptly hang up.
n October 22, 2012 at 02:49 AM
I've complained for almost one year about "Card Member Services" calling me, even though I am on the "Do Not Call List". Sometimes they would call more than once a day and I even had a call on my house phone, then later get one on my cell phone. It would be a recorded phone call saying press #1 to speak to a live operator. I would press the number, wait for someone to pick up, tell them I am on the DNCL and then they would hang up on me. I've made numerous complaints on-line to the State Div. of Consumer Affairs and after many months of complaints on-line & a phone call to them, I received a form letter from the Complaint Review Unit, basically saying they looked at my complaints and after "careful review" of the matter, they have concluded that I may benefit from a referral to the Federal Trade Commission which may be better able to assist me. So now I do on-line complaints to the FTC, but nothing has been done & I still get calls from that same telemarketer. By the way, the one time I spoke to a live operator, I played along a little bit to see where their line of B.S. was going. I was shocked to find out that he had my name & address, which I never gave out. So beware!
Terry October 22, 2012 at 03:05 AM
"Anyone not already signed up for the list and it's hard to imagine why anyone wouldn't—can register online or by calling 1-888-382-1222. " It's simple enough why anyone wouldn't sign up, it simply doesn't work. Robocalls abound, robocalls about super cheap electric bills; robocalls from your credit card company announcing that there's no problem with your bill but they have some swell garbage to sell you; regular old human calls from police organizations and stuttering, long pauses from money grubbers waiting for your name to pop up on their screens: all of this when you're ON the Do Not Call List. Someone, somewhere must be responding with cash or these annoyances would dry up.
JenniferB October 22, 2012 at 11:14 AM
Card Member Services is the worst offender. The only thing I have seen work with them is by blocking them. We have Cablevision's service for our phone and can block numbers through our account so we log in and do that.
John M. October 22, 2012 at 12:46 PM
When I accidently answer up a marketing call I wait for a human being to get on the phone then I blast a recording of a siren into the receiver. The marketeer doesn't call back,
Maxim Sapozhnikov October 22, 2012 at 12:56 PM
DNCL is what happens when politicians with good intent but no brains write laws. All they needed to stop the abuse is to make the caller liable for meager $10 for every reported commercial solicitation (make it $100 for using a "restricted" phone, to make an investigation worth its while). The coverage should also be extended to professional telemarketing businesses calling on behalf of charities and political groups, with exception solely for *actual* charities and political groups.
David Steketee October 22, 2012 at 01:23 PM
The biggest problem is the fact that callers can set their outbound callerID to any value they want. That's why you end up with calls from 000-000-0000.
Patch Adams October 23, 2012 at 12:27 AM
Answer the call and tell the caller you can't speak to them right now because they are calling your office number. Then provide your local Congressmen's office number to the telemarketer and advise them that you will be happy to hear about their product when they call your "home" number.
ANGELA October 23, 2012 at 09:55 AM
Michael Dwells October 23, 2012 at 02:34 PM
I'm losing hope against stopping political robo-calls. This is why whenever I get such a call, I contact my telephone company right away and get the NUISANCE CALLER's phone number blocked so they never call me again. Then I report the phone number to http://www.callercenter.com and expose the politician for his unethical practice just so the people know the kind of leader he'd probably make.
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Brian Rutter November 11, 2012 at 06:02 PM
I suspect an investigation would find that telemarketers make large campaign contributions, which is why there is no enforcement of the DNC list. Ah, America! The best government money can buy! If you really want to end telemarketing, execute a few telemarketers (the big guys, not the poor schmucks manning the phones). It will come to a screeching halt.


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