Last updated in August 2007
You posted your phone number to the national do-not-call list but you’re still bothered by unwanted solicitations, sometimes several each day, and your trashcan is about to break from the load of unwanted mail you throw away. It seems there’s almost no way to avoid unwanted sales pitches—but there are ways to curb them. Here’s a refresher course to hopefully quiet your evenings and lighten your mailbox.
The most effective and easiest way to curb telemarketing calls is to post your telephone number on the National Do-Not-Call Registry run by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Sign up online at www.donotcall.gov or call the FTC’s special toll-free phone number: 888-382-1222. It may take about three months before you notice any reduction in unsolicited calls. There are more than 144 million numbers on the list so far. If you signed up when the registry first took effect in October 2003, remember that you have to re-up every five years.
You may as well register your cell phone number on the Do-Not-Call Registry. Although you’ve probably received several e-mail warnings about your cell phone number soon being released to telemarketers, the FTC says those email warnings are not true; it’s an urban legend. But it can’t hurt to go ahead and register your cell phone number on the list.
Keep in mind that the Do-Not-Call Registry doesn’t guarantee all calls will stop. That’s because a lot of companies are exempt from the do-not-call rules, including charities, survey researchers, political campaigns, companies that have an existing business relationship with you (or had one in the past 18 months), and companies you have given consent to call you. You may not know you even gave your consent; some marketers obtain it surreptitiously by sending solicitations or e-mails that, when you respond, allow them to call you.
To stop even more solicitations, you can ask a company or organization that calls you to put you on its company-specific do-not-call list. That company or organization is not supposed to call you afterward, even if you have an existing business relationship with it or if it is otherwise exempt.
If you want to get off as many national mailing lists as possible, first contact the Mail Preference Service of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). The association’s members are bound to honor the request of consumers who ask to be removed from mailing lists, and many other marketers who are not DMA members also honor these requests.
There’s a $1 fee—DMA says it’s an anti-fraud, verification fee—and you have to re-register every five years. You can sign up either online at www.dmachoice.org or by mail at:
Mail Preference Service
Direct Marketing Association
P.O. Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512
(Include a check or money order for $1)
To stop unsolicited credit offers you can “opt out” by signing onto a list operated by the four major credit-reporting bureaus. These bureaus, which are a source of mailing list information for banks and others marketing credit cards and insurance, will then no longer be able to provide your name to these marketers. To sign up, call 888-5-OPTOUT (888-567-8688) or visit www.optoutprescreen.com. You have to provide certain personal information, including your home telephone number, Social Security number, and date of birth, but it’s confidential. You have a choice to opt out for five years or permanently. You can always reverse your decision by using the same process—something you may want to do if you’re looking for credit because sometimes the best terms come in pre-approved offers. Opting out this way won’t stop all credit offers, however. You may still get solicitations from companies you do business with, such as your current credit card companies and from charities and alumni associations.
If after these steps you are still getting too much junk mail and have the time and energy to take additional steps, you can contact your phone company to ask that your data be taken off any lists it sells; avoid store loyalty cards, or don’t give an accurate address or phone number when you sign up; and notify marketers, magazine publishers, charities, and others that you don’t want your name and address to be sold or exchanged.
(Consumers' Checkbookmay itself be making a contribution to your mail and phone call burden. We attempt to reach every subscriber once—and only once—per year in our annual fundraising drive. That fundraising is essential to the organization’s survival and the call gives us an opportunity to tell you why—plus get useful subscriber feedback. But if you don’t want to receive future calls, just tell the caller—or let us know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, in an effort to keep down the costs of Postal Service mailings we do to recruit new subscribers, we exchange or rent our mailing list to other nonprofit organizations or publishers. If you don’t want your name used in this way, please just let us know.)