How to dodge the dodgiest telemarketers

Gladys Cooper, who lives in Center City, estimates that she received 30 or 40 political robocalls before the primary election in May. She wasn’t as happy about them as she looks. She hung up on most. (James Heaney / Staff Photographer)

Most consumers are baffled by the latest onslaught of unwanted telemarketing calls, according to a new survey by the Consumer Federation of America. To fight back, the CFA has prepared a valuable primer on consumers' rights - click here to see it. You can also watch this CFA video, below, illustrating some of the risks.

More than half the 1,008 people that CFA surveyed were on the Do Not Call registry, the CFA's Susan Grant said at a news conference today where she discussed the survey's findings. But those consumers were no more knowledgable about their telemarketing rights than those who weren't on the registry.

"Knowing your rights can help you tell the difference between legitimate telemarketing and scams," Grant said. "Legitimate companies usually follow the rules, but scammers don't."

Why scammers can so easily circumvent the Do Not Call list, and place so many illegal robocalls, is another story - a technological cat-and-mouse race that I wrote about here.  No word so far on the Federal Trade Commission's success in identifying a technological solution to the problem. The winners of its $50,000 Robocall Challenge will be announced April 15.

Some excerpted highlights from the CFA's valuable primer:

Your Do Not Call Rights

  • You can stop unwanted sales calls by putting your number on the National Do Not Call Registry.
  • Call 1-888-382-1222 from the phone that you wish to register, or go to
  •  On the website you can register more than one phone number at the same time.
  • You can put cell phone numbers as well as landline numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry.
  • In addition to making sure that they don’t call numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry, companies must keep their own “no call” lists. Even if you don’t put your number on the National Do Not Call Registry, you always have the right to tell a company “put my number on your no call list.”
  • Learn more:

Do Not Call Rights Do not Apply to

  • Political calls, calls made by charities, and calls to take surveys are not covered.
  • However, if a telemarketer is hired by a charity to call seeking donations, the telemarketer must keep a “no call” list and you can ask for your number to be put on that list to stop further calls on behalf of that charity.
  • Calls from a debt collector.
  • Putting your number on the National Do Not Call Registry does not stop a company from making sales calls to you if you have an “established business relationship” with it or you gave it written permission to call. An established business relationship means that you purchased or rented something from the company within the last 18 months or you asked it about a product or service within in the last 3 months. But remember, you can stop further sales calls from a company any time you wish, even there is an “established business relationship” or you gave it written permission to call you, by simply saying “put my number on your no call list.”

Your Robocall Rights

  • A robocall is a call that uses a prerecorded message or is made with an autodialer (or both).
  • A telemarketer can only call your landline or cell phone using a prerecorded message to try to sell you something if you gave the company prior written consent to make such calls to you. Prior written consent is also required for a telemarketer hired by a charity to call your landline or cell phone using a prerecorded message to ask for a donation, unless you have given to that charity before.
  • Prerecorded calls to your cell phone for other purposes (except for emergencies) also require prior consent, which can be written or verbal.
  • Learn and

Your Robocall Rights Do Not Apply to

  • Calls to your landline phone that use prerecorded messages don’t require consent if they are for:
  • Informational purposes such as to notify you of a change in your flight, remind you about an appointment, or confirm an order.
  • Political, emergency, or other purposes where the caller isn’t trying to sell you something.
  • A healthcare provider can make a prerecorded call to your landline phone without your prior consent if the message is related to your health benefits, treatment or case management – for instance, a message from your pharmacy reminding you that it’s time to refill a prescription or from your doctor’s office that flu shots are available. Such calls to your cell phone do require consent, which can be written or verbal. Prerecorded sales pitches for products or services that aren’t prescribed by health care providers as part of a plan of treatment, such as health club memberships, weight loss programs, or vitamins or minerals, require your prior written consent.

These are just a sampling of advice from the CFA's detailed primer - check it out. And watch the slightly wifty but cute video, especially if you're a visual learner.