Cover Story
The FTC's National 'Do Not Call Registry'
Is Not Without Hang-Ups

by Andrea Wilson

   The launch of the National Do Not Call Registry, a free service developed by the U.S. federal government to give consumers a choice about receiving telemarketing calls at home, was announced June 27th, 2003 by President George W. Bush, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Timothy J. Muris, and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Michael K. Powell. After 12 months of planning, and many recent road-blocks, the federal government created the national registry to make it easier and more efficient for U.S. consumers to stop receiving telemarketing sales calls at the phone number they register with the service. The FTC, the FCC and the states were to begin enforcing the Do Not Call provisions of the Telemarketing Sales Rule on October 1, 2003. Recent legal acrobatics by "interested parties" have delayed the service's inception. When the service begins, consumers who registered between June 27th and August 31st, 2003, should start to notice a downturn in the number of telemarketing calls they receive. Some calls, however, such as those from political organizations, solicitation calls on behalf of charities, and calls to conduct surveys, to the extent that they are regulated by state law, will be permitted and are not covered by the National Registry compliance requirements. The initial launch success of the Do Not Call Registry appears to be overwhelming. Consumers continue to add their telephone numbers to the Registry at an energetic pace, favoring online registrations to telephone registrations, 88 percent to 12 percent. As of July 15, 2003, 26.3 million U.S. telephone numbers had been logged into the registry.

Registration Woes

   The registry service is a novel new approach to assist in cracking down on telemarketing scams, however, registration isn't without some headaches. Consumers can register in two ways: online via the Internet or by calling a U.S. toll-free number. If consumers register by phone, they must call from the number they wish to register. However, people residing in certain communities, such as senior living centers, retirement homes or university residences, have phone numbers that are hidden by a PBX (private branch exchange) telephone system and cannot be verified by the System. When the consumer calls to register a phone number, they are asked to enter the number from which they are calling. The system tries to match the number they enter to the "Automatic NumberIdentification" or ANI, which is similar to "Caller ID" for the telephone network. The phone number used by the PBX is usually connected to a main 'trunk line' that the telephone company registers with the PBX switch and which would be considered the ANI in the registry verification process. Within the switch are direct dial lines (or DID lines) that allow individual phone lines to be established for private inbound direct calls, however the outbound phone calls would be registered to the main PBX trunk line or ANI number. If the consumer, living in such a community, attempts to register their assigned phone number, the registry will not accept it as the number cannot be matched to the inbound phone number picked up by the registry system. Therefore, the only other option at this point, is to register via the Registry web site. This is all fine and dandy if the senior citizen is Internet savvy, owns a home computer, is registered with an ISP, understands how to use a Web browser and surf the Internet for the Registry site address. Since majority of telemarketing scams in the U.S. target the elderly, registration of the most consumer-prone audience is bound to be a nagging problem for the FTC. The enrollment method statistics alone shed some light on which consumer audience is registering for the service (current Internet users).
   Currently, the more successful method to register is online, at www.DONOTCALL.gov. But this method is also plagued with registration hangovers. Once the registration is submitted online, there are two additional steps to confirm the registration: First, the consumer must open a return confirmation e-mail sent from . Second, the consumer must click on the link in the email to complete the registration. Once consumers receive the confirmation e-mail, they are required to click on the link in the e-mail within 72 hours to complete the registration process. If the consumer is using an older web browser from certain ISP's (including AOL), they may not be able to click on the link in the email received from . The confirmation URL address is usually more than one line of text and the consumer's email system may not be able to read an address of more than one line. If the consumer receives the "REGISTRATION INCOMPLETE" response page stating the registration confirmation has failed and the troubleshooting exercise must begin. In this scenario the FTC suggests completion of the registration by cutting and pasting the link from the email into the Address line on the consumer's web browser. The link cannot be re-typed in the Address line for some reason. You also cannot respond to the email address with any questions or problems, as the email address is a one-way mail service. It cannot accept incoming email replies. So if problems with final registration do arise, including what to do if your 72 hour time limit to respond has been exceeded, consumers are left to scour the Do Not Call Registry web site in search of answers to their problems, which incidentally, are not addressed on the FAQ section of the site.

Trouble with the Law

   If the phone number is registered (correctly) by August 31, 2003, then the phone number will be available for telemarketers to remove it from their "call lists" by the next day. The law requires telemarketers to search the registry every three months and synchronize their call lists with the phone numbers that are on the registry. The FTC is providing telemarketers with a 3-month window in order to remove the registered phone number from their call lists. This means consumers must wait three months before telemarketers are required to stop calling them at the registered number. A lot of nuisance calls can occur in that 3-month grace period, particularly if you've been lucky enough to escape the telemarketing circuit of supper-time calls in the past. Registering your number is direct advertisement for the telemarketers and license to 'annoy' you for the next 3 months. After three months, if the telemarketer is still calling, the consumer can file a "do not call" complaint. However, there is yet another loop-hole for consumers to contend with. Companies with which consumers have an 'established business relationship' may call for up to 18 months after the last purchase, payment or delivery, even if the consumer's name is on the National Do Not Call Registry. How the FTC regulates this is a ponderous question. What if the last purchase to the consumer's card or delivery of bogus products was a result of a telemarketing scam? Seems the loop-hole could exempt those scam artists from the very service it was designed to protect consumers from.

The Disconnect Dilemma

   The Do Not Call registry system will automatically delete telephone numbers that are disconnected for any reason. If the consumer registers a cabin or vacation home, and the service is disconnected for the months they are not resident, then the consumer is required to re-register that phone number when the service is turned on again providing the nuisance telemarketers yet another 3-months of calling pleasure. Each and every time the consumer re-registers a phone number, telemarketers have up to another three months to take the number off their call lists. If the phone service is disconnected because of a billing issue, then the consumer is required to re-register the phone number when service is re-established. When the consumer moves from one town to another or across area code calling sections, the old phone number is often re-assigned to a new home owner. If this number was originally registered and is disconnected and re-assigned, the new consumer could be plagued with unwanted telemarketing calls as the number becomes 'open territory' for telemarketers until it's once again re-registered. After the number is deleted, it will be removed from the Registry by the next day. However, telemarketers have up to three months to access information about the deletion and add the number back to their call lists, if they choose to, and why wouldn't they?

Regulating the Revised Rules

   After October 1, 2003, telemarketers will be required to access the registry every three months and scrub numbers on it from their call lists. Telemarketers who call a number on the list could be fined up to $11,000 per call. If the consumer receives telemarketing calls after registering the phone number, and it has been in the registry for three months, they can file a complaint online at the registry web site or by calling 1-888-382-1222. Consumers will need to know the company's name or phone number to file a "do not call" complaint. For those on the approved telemarketing company list (list is broad in nature), the revised Telemarketing Sales Rule also prohibits deceptive and abusive telemarketing acts and practices and protects consumers from unwanted late-night telemarketing calls:

  • Calling times are restricted to the hours between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m
  • Telemarketers must promptly tell you the identity of the seller or charitable organization and - before they make their pitch - that the call is a sales call or a charitable solicitation.
  • Telemarketers must disclose all material information about the goods or services they are offering and the terms of the sale. They are prohibited from lying about any terms of their offer.

   In addition to creating the National Do Not Call Registry, the amended TSR:

Restricts unauthorized billing

   Before billing charges to the consumer's credit card, telemarketers must get express, informed consent to charge the card. If a telemarketer has card or account information before the call and offers goods or services on a 'free trial basis' before charging automatically (this is known as a "free-to-pay conversion" offer) the telemarketer must get permission to charge a particular account number, ask for confirmation of the number by having the consumer repeat the last four digits, and, for added protection, record the entire phone transaction.

Requires caller ID transmission

   Beginning January 29, 2004, assuming the service is soon activated, telemarketers must transmit their telephone number and if possible, their name, to your caller ID service. This will protect your privacy, increase accountability on the telemarketer's part, and help in law enforcement efforts.
   The question that begs to be asked is how these two changes to the TSR will be regulated and enforced. The onus is on the consumer to report any wrong-doing on the part of the telemarketer and without them knowing the specific rules as stated above, is virtually impossible to ensure compliance with the TSR regulations. The FTC in some ways assumes the problems rest with legitimate telemarketing service providers when in fact a quick glance at the new FTC's online telemarketing fraud enforcement summaries (www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/edcams/telemarkfraudenforcement/index.html) points to a much greater problem in relation to crackdown of deceptive telemarketing scams.
   'Do not call' complaints will be entered into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies worldwide. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies worldwide. Time will tell if enough complaints and patterns about a specific telemarketing company are acted on in relation to a civil action brought on by the FTC.

Putting a Scam in the Works

   Have you received a call from a company inviting you to pre-register for the national "Do Not Call" list? What about a call asking to confirm your registration on a "Do Not Call" registry? If so, you're likely a target of a new scam, designed to undermine the effectiveness of the Do Not Call registry service. The FTC does not allow private companies or other third parties to register consumers on their behalf, nor do they charge a registration fee. The FTC says it has received hundreds of complaints about unscrupulous business people offering to help register consumers to the list, for a "fee". Many consumers who want to get fewer telemarketing calls already have signed up with a state "Do Not Call" registry, the Direct Marketing Association's Telemarketing Preference Service or individual company "Do Not Call" lists. However, consumer protection officials say that rip-off artists have begun to take advantage of the popularity of these services to trick consumers into giving up personal information, such as their Social Security number, bank account number, credit card number or telephone calling card number. Web sites or phone solicitors that claim they can or will register a consumer's name or phone number on a national list - especially those who charge a fee - are a scam.
   Here's how the scam works a pleasant speaking person obtains your phone number from a call list and calls your home claiming to represent the "Do Not Call" registry or the FTC. The phony registry official asks for personal information, supposedly to verify that you want to be on, or have already registered with the "Do Not Call" service. There is a fee for registration of approximately $10 to $19.99. The caller is a con artist who could use your personal information to run up debts in your name or otherwise steal your identity. Some con artists are pushing a similar scam through email spam. With the new process plagued with registration problems, con artists are taking advantage of the window of opportunity paved right in front of them. The FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection says consumers can avoid these scams by not sharing personal information if someone calls claiming to represent the "Do Not Call" registry or the FTC. They recommend either hanging-up immediately or recording the caller's organization and phone number and reporting it to the FTC or to the state attorney general. Hanging up on the deceptive caller means they aren't being reported to the FTC, which gives them more time to perpetrate their scam and continue to jeopardize the primary objectives of the Do Not Call Registry - control over telemarketing activity.