Stop Unwanted Phone Calls

Category: Telephony

Those pesky telemarketers are still abundant despite the enactment of the National “Do Not Call List” in 2004 and the similar state laws passed in its wake. Why is that, and what can you do to stop these and other unwanted phone calls?

Don't Call Me, I'll Call You (Maybe)

There are several reasons why you may still get unsolicited phone calls, even if you've added your home and mobile numbers to the Do Not Call list. We'll take a look at those, and then I'll offer some tips on how to eliminate or at least reduce those annoying calls from telemarketers, charities and people you just don't want to deal with.

First, business phone numbers are fair game for telemarketers; businesses hold themselves out to the public and are expected to take the bad with the good. “Do Not Call” laws are for personal/residential phone numbers only. If you run a business, dealing with sales calls is just one of the many costs of doing business.

Stop Unwanted Phone Calls

Second, certain types of telephone solicitations are exempt from “Do Not Call” laws. Political speech is sacrosanct under the First Amendment, so campaign-related calls and calls regarding political action will keep coming until the First Amendment is amended.

Calls made by (or on behalf of) non-profit charities are exempted. It’s a tough call (sorry), but we, the People, through our dully (sic) elected representatives, have decided that charities should be free to raise money to help the downtrodden by interrupting our dinners. That decision may be revisited if for-profit telemarketing firms keep using charities as cover for lining their pockets, but for now it’s the law.

Third, for-profit firms “and their subsidiaries or affiliates” are permitted to call you for up to thirty days after they establish a “business relationship” with you. In practice, that means that if you simply contact a company, by any means, to inquire about anything (even just their location), the company and any firm with which it is affiliated can cold-call you for up to a month with impunity.

So the federal “Do Not Call List” law is full of gaping loopholes, and so are many of the state laws that used it as a model. But state “Do Not Call List” laws have one big advantage for telemarketing victims under certain circumstances.

Option 1: Carry a Big Stick

My friend and former editor, David Hakala, was a business-to-business telemarketer for many years back in the 70s and 80s. Today, he hates telemarketers with the heat of 10,000 suns. So he leapt at the chance to be the first person to sue a telemarketer under his state’s newly-enacted “Do Not Call List” law, and he did not settle for small change. Here is what happens when you read the fine print of a law:

David’s state law allows victims to sue for $500 whoever makes “or causes to be made” an illegal telephone solicitation. So he sued five people, including one corporate person: The woman who left her sales pitch on his voicemail, the sales manager, the VP of sales and marketing, the firm’s president, and the corporation itself. That’s $2,500 in total. It cost David $35 to have the court summonses served at the firm’s HQ. Within 24 hours, David had settled with the firm’s attorney and received a certified check for $1,000.

If litigation is not your style, there are a few other things you can do to defend against telemarketers. But you are up against the most resourceful and lawless predators in the world, so don’t expect total victory.

Option 2: Blocking Calls With Settings, Services and Apps

All US-based landlines can block callers who block transmission of their caller-ID data; so-called “private callers.” If you have contacts who do this, they will not be able to call you; but that may not be a bad thing. This feature, called Anonymous Call Rejection, is activated by dialing *77, and can be turned off by dialing *87.

Wireless carriers long resisted blocking unwanted callers for their customers because they were charging by the minute; an unwanted call to you was revenue to your carrier. But that has changed since unlimited-talk became the standard of the industry. I don't know of any wireless phone or carrier that lets you block all anonymous callers, but there are ways to block specific numbers.

Verizon Wireless’ free blocking service, called Call and Message Blocking, allows you to block up to 5 numbers, but you must renew blocks every 90 days. Another Verizon feature, Usage Controls, allows you to block up to 20 numbers with no expiration, but costs $5/month. Both have the limitation that you can only block specific numbers, and don't enable blocking of all anonymous calls. Both require you to login to the Verizon website and enter the numbers to block. Check with your carrier to see if they have something similar.

On Android smartphones you can block future calls from any specific phone number, if it's first added to your contacts list. The little known trick is to edit the caller's contact, press the options button, then tap "Add to Reject list". If you own an iPhone, this no-brainer feature won’t be available until you upgrade to iOS v7. The best iOS users can do until then is pay $1.29 for a “silent ringtone” at iTunes and assign it to phone numbers of unwanted callers.

Android users get a little more help from developers. PrivacyStar is an app for Android that lets you block whole Area Codes as well as specific number, private callers, and unknown numbers. It also blocks text messages. This saves you the trouble of adding numbers to your contact list that you never want to call. Its reverse-lookup feature can reveal who is calling even if caller-ID data is not forthcoming. A free, limited version is available; the full feature set costs $2.99 per month.

A technique I use often is to quickly Google the number while the phone is ringing. Quite often, I can identify the name of the business or telemarketer that is calling. Armed with that info, I can choose not to answer, or hit the "Receive Fax" button on my all-in-one printer/scanner/fax. In some cases, the callers are using sophisticated calling software that detects fax numbers, and will remove you from the list. If it's a human caller, they get blasted with a fax tone, which hopefully has the same effect. At the very least, it's satisfying.

These tools can help to reduce the annoyance of unwanted callers, be they telemarketers, charities or creepy stalkers. Do you have any other tips to share about blocking nuisance callers? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Posted by on 25 Oct 2013


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Most recent comments on "Stop Unwanted Phone Calls"

(See all 58 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Steve
25 Oct 2013

You didn't mention if there is way to block unwanted calls for Windows Phones. I've noticed this before in a couple past articles that I never commented on. I get the fact that WP phones are not as popular, but they are gaining ground especially with the Nokia 520/521 which is the top selling smartphone right now only because of the 150 dollar list price which also makes it the cheapest price too.
Can you tell me if there is way to do this on my WP. Thanks Steve


Posted by:

Luke
25 Oct 2013

Do you realize that corporations buy the 'no-call' list so they can have real phones to call!!! Yes, many people never received these cold calls until they signed on to the list.


Posted by:

Luke
25 Oct 2013

I have a windows phone. What I do is never answer a call that I don't know. This means if your number is not listed in my 'people' file, I won't answer. Realize that if you are on the list the call will announce the name of the caller. Sooo after I call back all the mysterious numbers, I make a list. Then I set up a 'person' & enter the numbers. Of course the 'person' is a name like Asshole or Idiot. It's great when your phone rings like it has down here in the Dominican Republic & it announces 'Call from moron!' You will need a few 'people' like this to accommodate all the calls you get. It's really fun. CAUTION: shut your phone off at business meetings & church services. Tee, hee.


Posted by:

Gary J. Rachuba
25 Oct 2013

I find that many calls with 800,866 and so on calls are automated calls. The technique I have used is to pick up my land line handset and say nothing. Just listen. This causes the automated machine to not detect a voice and will eventually go to a fast busy signal without the recording coming on. It seems that if you say anything -- that is what activates the machine making the call.


Posted by:

Joe Repetto
25 Oct 2013

When I get annoyed by these calls, I pick up but don't answer an then hang up.


Posted by:

Lincoln
25 Oct 2013

Bob! I have found this website to be very useful:

http://800notes.com/

We have something called a "Do Not Call List" in Canada, too...but, alas, things only got worse since I signed up for it. Seems the government made the list available to...you guessed it: telemarketers. U.S.-based numbers are not covered by Canadian law, so there has been a *huge* increase in telemarketing calls from South of the border. I do not answer any numbers I do not recognize. And I use 800notes to find out who is on the other end. And my Panasonic cordless telephone allows me to block up to 30 numbers, freeing me from the worst of the repeat offenders.

But that is just a stopgap measure. I will not be satisfied until telemarketing calls to people *who do not want to receive them* are banned, and harshly penalized. On both sides of the border.


Posted by:

Andrea
25 Oct 2013

Thanks for the article! I never knew that "affiliates" could only call for 30 days.


Posted by:

Lucy
25 Oct 2013

For years we have had a gizmo between our phone and the wall jack that makes the sound of a disconnected number when the phone is answered.

If it is a robo call, it will hang up then call back to check, then it deletes our number from their records.

Occasionally we'll get some calls, but after a week or so it stops again.

People we want to hear from know they'll hear the sound and to wait for us to greet them.

This "Tele Zapper" is still available on eBay, it takes a button battery which lasts a long time.

I highly recommend it if all those tele marketing calls bother you, dinner will be uninterrupted.


Posted by:

Jo
26 Oct 2013

Another trick that works for cell phones - put your pest's number in your contacts list and assign it the ring tone "no ring". The calls will go straight to voicemail without disturbing you.


Posted by:

Bob K.
26 Oct 2013

With our CallerID, we don't answer unknown callers.
A few weeks ago, annoyed, I called a telemarketing caller back and an automated system began ".. to stop calls from us ... press 1.." I did.
AND I've been doing that on 5-6 telemarketer calls since - every one had a similar automated response to allow you to remove your number from their list..

I don't know if it'll work, but no harm in trying - as entering complaints in the donotcall.gov website is a waste of time (they kept calling)..


Posted by:

Daniel Wiener
26 Oct 2013

Fortunately I've had no problems with any of our cell phones, which we now use exclusively instead of land lines. However, I still get a heavy volume of telemarketing calls on our home phone, which used to be a land line. As I detailed on a previous topic, back on January 14th I transferred our land line phone number (which we've had for three decades and didn't want to lose) to Google Voice in a two-step process. All calls to that number now go to voice mail, and Google Voice emails me a notification that a call was received (along with a transcript if a message was left).

Google Voice has fielded 830 calls over the last 284 days, for an average of 2.9 calls per day. Only 39 out of the 830 (i.e., less than 5%) resulted in valid non-sales-type messages that I wanted to hear. It was easy to filter out all of the unwanted calls because they either didn't leave a message or I could tell from a glance at the transcript that I wasn't interested.

For the first month or two I tried Googling the numbers that called and didn't leave messages, and invariably discovered that they were telemarketers. I then blocked their phone numbers, assuming that the frequency of such calls would quickly decrease. That didn't happen. Many of the big-time telemarketing firms have banks of numbers they call from, so blocking one had no effect on their others.

After awhile my curiosity abated and I stopped bothering to Google the calling numbers or block them. Now I don't care how many telemarketing calls I get. Google Voice effectively screens them out, without my having to answer the telephone. If the email from Google Voice shows that the caller didn't bother to leave any message, then I'm certainly not going to bother calling that number back. If a message was left, I quickly scan the transcript to see if follow-up action is needed.

For all practical purposes I am now telemarketer-free, without losing any phone calls which are important.


Posted by:

Nina
26 Oct 2013

If the person is not in my address book on my iPhone, I don't answer. If someone really wants to get a hold of me, the'll leave a message.
Thank you for all your timely and clear information.


Posted by:

Yves
26 Oct 2013

I also have a Panasonic Cordless telephone that allows me to block up to 30 numbers. I like it very much. Another option that worked for me is to annoy them by playing dumb and waist their time. I don't know if it's a coincidence but I don't receive unwanted calls anymore. And it's not because I have blocked numbers. When I receive a call from a blocked number the telephone ring once and the number appear in the call display. So I would know. I like to belive they have a blacklist number and that I'm on it.


Posted by:

Narada
26 Oct 2013

The EBR period exemption (established business relationship) is 18 months from your last business transaction or 3 months from your last inquiry or application. Thus, your dentist can call you to tell you it's time for your annual checkup, and if your periodical subscription runs out, you can be called up to 18 months after you received the last issue. Also, surveys are exempt from the DNC list.


Posted by:

bob
26 Oct 2013

If I don't recognize the number I'll answer it by saying "Pizza Hut, can I take your order?" They hang up and never call again :)


Posted by:

RE
26 Oct 2013

With iOS7, take the call, hang up and go to "recent calls." Tap the "I" for information on the right and scroll down. It allows you to block that number forever. You have to have them call you once, but never again.


Posted by:

Alan
26 Oct 2013

Particularly with the various scam companies out there who want to "help you reduce your credit card debt", I have taken to seeing how long I can keep them on the line, providing false information with whatever accent I seem to spit out at the time. Other times I prefer to play my recording of Liam Neeson's speech from "Taken"; you know " I don't know who you are, I don't know what you want.....I will find you, and I will kill you" !


Posted by:

Jenny
02 Nov 2013

These are both really helpful ideas! I'll definitely use them when I next get the chance.

But the best stories for dealing with telemarketers I've ever heard weren't tech solutions.
Google is full of results for funny things to tell them so they stop calling. Like unloading a lifetime of fiction troubles when they ask how you are.

That being said, I know people who work in call centres here in Sydney. It's easy to forget that they also need jobs. Sure they chose it but they don't always have that many options. That's why I always try to politely but firmly tell them I'm not interested, when I don't make a game out of it.


Posted by:

Nat
20 Jan 2014

I am also annoyed by those exceptions to the Do Not Call list, charities and politicians. I think I have managed to keep these down a little. Whenever, a real person in these groups call, I give a quiet but true speech that "I do not donate to(or vote for) anyone who phone solicits". AND I don't! If it's an automated call, I will make one attempt to email the offender to inform them I will never donate/vote for them because of their phone solicitation policy. Just like regular spam, if everyone did this, these people would go away.


Posted by:

Mary in SC
21 Mar 2014

Like some other readers, I get the best results by using caller ID and not picking up unless I know the caller. Comcast has a pretty good free blocking system that lets you block 12 numbers - and you can reuse the slots. They will also block 800 numbers unlike AT&T. The key: NEVER pick up the phone unless you know the caller. Let it go to Voice Mail. Sooner or later the calls will stop because endless failed calls cost them money. I stopped a VERY persistent scammer who called from many different numbers (but always at the same time of day) by always picking up, but immediately breaking the connection, after the 3rd ring. Once you speak they know you're a live one, so keep your mouth shut!


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