Most of us hold telemarketers in the same regard reserved for pond scum or invasive species. But recently, they've graduated from occasional nuisance to outright nefarious. One popular scam last year informed consumers that their bank had accidentally locked their account, tricking them into giving away personal information to "restore" it. Another offered to lower credit card rates for a one-time fee of $995, then pocketed the money without doing anything.
What can we do to curtail this cruel practice? For years, there wasn't much. Even signing up for the National Do Not Call Registry, which supposedly fines telemarketers up to $16,000 per unsolicited call, did little to scare off the hounds. And while tactics like those advocated by the San Francisco Chronicle's Steve Rubinstein deliver a kind of street justice, it's hard to be satisfied when you consider most telemarketers work under hellish conditions themselves.
Now, at long last, someone has heard our calls for help. On Wednesday, the FCC announced it would be cracking down on robo-calling and texting. Describing the problem to the Los Angeles Times, FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell sounded as exhausted by the incessant calling as any consumer: "Sometimes, it seems like there's no escape."
The new rules will allow consumers to have more control over who can call them and when. Written consent is now required before telemarketers can place robo-calls, and they're no longer allowed to harass customers just because they have an "established business relationship" with them. In addition, each robo-call is now required to provide an automated, interactive opt-out mechanism so consumers can immediately tell the telemarketer to
get a life stop calling.
Though it will likely take a few months for the changes to be incorporated, we can all take solace in the fact that this might be one of those rare, bi-partisan issues so execrable, it might actually get fixed. If you still find yourself getting harassed down the line, here are a few ways to fight back:
1. If you get an automated message from a robo-call, pressing # during the message could get you taken off that caller's list. (Lifehacker)
2. Sign up at StopPoliticalCalls.org, a service run by nonprofit group Citizens for Civil Discourse, if you're interested in getting off political robo-call lists this election season.
3. Sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry. It's free, and your number is never taken off the list.
4. If you're still getting called, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Enough complaints will change policy. And if the call comes from an identifiable business, be sure to also report it to the Better Business Bureau.