5 On Your Side

Telemarketing scams persist despite Do Not Call list

Posted November 8, 2012

Never give a telemarketer personal information that could be used to perpetrate a scam, experts said.

— Whether you're trying to get ready in the morning, dealing with the kids at midday or preparing dinner at night, phone calls from telemarketers are – at the very least – annoying.

Mary Ennis gets calls with offers for everything, from lower credit card interest rates to home security systems.

"The FBI has reported numerous break-ins in your area,” Ennis said, repeating the line she’s often heard from telemarketers. “We'll get two or three a day."

And Ennis' has been on the National Do Not Call Registry since the day it started.

The Federal Trade Commission started the registry in 2003 to prohibit telemarketers from calling numbers voluntarily put on the list. Now, 217 million phone numbers are on it, but many consumers say it’s not working.

“We're getting complaints now more than ever,” North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said. “The biggest increase we're seeing is in the area of robo-calls. Those complaints have doubled for the past two years.”

Cooper said his office received almost 3,000 complaints last year about unwanted telemarketing calls. This year, they already have more than 4,000. Most are about robo-calls, which are illegal in North Carolina.

"If you are trying to sell something, it is illegal to have a robo-call without a human voice coming on and asking if you want to hear it,” Cooper said. "So most of the people using these robo-calls now and violating the law are shady businesses or scam artists."

Telemarketing scams persist despite Do Not Call list Telemarketing scams persist despite Do Not Call list

Technology is what makes robo-calls so attractive to scammers. With automatic dialing systems, they can blast out millions of phone calls in a matter of hours for pennies. And they can easily cover their tracks by spoofing their number so that the wrong one shows up on your caller ID.

Some scammers actually rent a caller ID or a company name for a day – or even just a few hours – to keep from getting caught.

“Cheap to make, hard to trace, very difficult to catch and prosecute," Cooper said.

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission shut down five companies the agency claims defrauded consumers out of as much as $30 million in just the past few years. In what almost seems like a desperate effort to find a solution, the FTC is now offering a $50,000 prize to whomever can come up with a way to block illegal robo-calls on landlines and cellphones.

“Bothering is bad enough,” said Cooper. “Ripping you off is worse.”

Experts say the worst thing you can do when you get a robo-call is to stay on the line to talk to someone.

"They want you to continue to get you to go down the line so that they can get your personal information and so that they can steal money from you,” Cooper said.

He said don’t follow prompts to press numbers during a call.

“If you press that number, you are telling them that they have a good phone number. And it's a phone number that they can sell to other telemarketers and scam artists, so you are likely to get more,” he said. “We tell people when you get a robo-call, hang up.”

Mary Ennis said: "The system is not working if people are still getting calls. That's what it boils down to.”

Cooper said the registry is working with legitimate businesses. Without it, he said, people would have even more unwanted calls coming in.

"I just think it's an annoying thing that you shouldn't have to deal with,” Ennis said. “That's it."

Many people complained to 5 On Your Side over the last couple of months about all of the political calls they were getting. Those calls are exempt from the law. Cooper says he has pushed to change that in North Carolina, but he can't get the legislature to agree.

Polls and charities are also exempt.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • kmcelveen Nov 9, 2012

    We have been on the DNC list since it began. Seemed to work well for the first few years. Now it has been getting worse for the past few years. Majority of calls are about lower credit card rate or some variant to do with credit cards. When we do, rarely, get a live person we ask them to take our name and/or phone # off their call list. Sometimes we would get laughter/jeers in response. Have gone on the .gov site a few times & filled out their form when I have enough info on the caller. Now we just hang up or not answer when we recognize from caller ID. Thankfully, we have not rec'd any political calls this year that I know of. That is great!

  • excalibur810 Nov 9, 2012

    soooo, here is my solution...i get these same calls both the credit card and home security calls...whenever a live person picks up...i then blow a very, very loud air horn into the phone...if they are going to call me after repeatedly being told not to...then, the will have to pay the consequences....

  • gcannon Nov 9, 2012

    Even though I have been on the "Do Not Call List" since the day that it began, I have continued to get unwanted calls from companies with which I absolutely have no relationship (at least a couple of obnoxious calls per day except here recently where I have received several "extra" political calls per day ... I am so happy that the election is over). I generally let my answerphone take the calls; however, if I am taking a nap or up a ladder or in the shower, it is very frustrating! Something that works to stop these obnoxious calls seriously needs to be done (the phone company charges for blocking and not listing home phone numbers... such numbers as "Card Services" mask their phone numbers so that they can not be blocked with any success). I am so #@^& tired of getting these calls that I have seriously considered ending my land land service provider!!!

  • J-Hol Nov 9, 2012

    Dollibug....it's called an "ellipsis"....and there is a right way....and a wrong way....to use it....guess which one this is....?

  • dollibug Nov 9, 2012

    As with anything else....someone always figures out a way around things....for instance....bullying....bullying has been going on for many years....OMG....and did anyone actually *watch the political debates* and see just how very RUDE these 2 grown adults were to the moderator????????? And we all know that adults are suppose to be role models.....the world is slap out of control....with anything and everything....I do not answer any calls either that I do not know who is calling....and for the most part....the caller hardly ever leaves a message....(except for the political calls)....

  • dollibug Nov 9, 2012

    This is like anything and everything else....our country is in a MESS....a huge MESS and too much is going on....it is all out of control....and this applies to a lot of *issues*....especially the government run agencies....there are *corrupt people* trying to run things....there is actually NO ONE who can make anyone do *WHAT IS RIGHT*....did someone really think that anyone would *pay attention to a DO NOT CALL* list??????????

  • k9sandQtrs Nov 9, 2012

    I haven't had a land line in years. I just use my cellphone's call handling features that block any callers that aren't listed in my contacts. Google Voice, which is free, has some really cool call routing features which make it very easy for people you want to keep in contact with to connect with you and for blocking or sending unknown numbers to voicemail. There are a ton of options out there to keep you from being bothered.

  • shortcake53 Nov 9, 2012

    If it is a name or number I dont know I simply dont answer. I refuse to be held hostage by some phone scammer.

  • snowl Nov 9, 2012

    @paddie - I forgot to mention that I cancelled my LANDLINE telephone service 3 years ago, and (kept my number) for a cellular phone service with the same company. It may be that NOT having the landline phone helped to stop some unwanted spam calls.

  • CestLaVie Nov 9, 2012

    kittykarekat: I don't know what else your TWC is bundled with, but I removed my Bellsouth land line last spring (saved some $ too) to stop all these crummy calls & interruptions, not to mention so we wouldn't have to receive all the crummy political calls. I had TWC installed ONLY for internet service, as we previously installed satellite for TV several years ago.

    So, I think it's possible; check your area to see what TWC offers.