Question: What can I do to protect myself from those pesky telemarketers?

Answer: It seems that more and more businesses are trying to sell products, and charities are seeking donations, by telephoning people at home. Seniors, who are no longer employed and spend more time alone, are definitely being sought out by these telemarketers. Luckily, legal protections and do-it-yourself remedies can limit your receipt of unwanted phone calls and marketing scams.

If telemarketers are calling you too often, or just stay on too long, there are actions you can take to reduce future calls:

Exercise your opt-out rights. The federal government operates the national Do-Not-Call Registry that makes it easier for you to stop receiving unwanted telemarketing calls. To register, call 888-382-1222 or visit donotcall.gov. Telemarketers are legally required to search the registry every 30 days, and must immediately delete newly registered numbers from their marketing lists.

If three months have passed and you continue to receive the same telemarketing calls, you may contact the Do-Not-Call Registry again to file your formal complaint. The Federal Trade Commission may then use your complaint to fine the telemarketer up to $11,000 for each impermissible call made.

Request that telemarketers remove you from their marketing lists. Should you specifically request, all telemarketers must remove your telephone number from their marketing lists. You need only state: “Remove this phone number from your list.”

The California Attorney General’s Office has prepared a Do-Not-Call Complaint Checklist for you to maintain a record of continuing calls. You may download a copy of the call log at ag.ca.gov/donotcall. If notified telemarketers continue to call, you can use the complaint checklist as evidence, and proceed on with filing your formal complaint.

Do not fill out warranty or product registration cards. Such cards are not needed for warranties, but are used by marketing agencies to add the purchaser’s name, address and telephone number to other promotional lists. The cards usually ask questions about your interests, age, income, and more. Under California law, should the product you purchased turn out to be defective, its warranty will be confirmed with your purchase receipt.

Charitable donations should include your request. When you give money to a charity, enclose a note asking it not to share, sell or rent your name to any other organizations. Although charities and other nonprofit groups need not participate in the national Do-Not-Call Registry, their true sense of hope for your continued support will surely convince them to honor your request.

Very different from honest, but annoying, telemarketers are the telemarketing schemers who are committing fraud. For example:

  • An identity thief calls you, claiming to be a bank employee seeking to confirm your account or credit card number. Should you provide the information requested, your account is at risk.
  • A schemer seeks funding for a charity that you know nothing about. Although you request written details on the organization itself, you’re left with the immediate option to contribute or not. This is very different from most valid charities that would love to mail you details to help spread their word.
  • A sweepstakes promoter telephones to say that you’ve won. Unfortunately, you will only be able to collect the alleged reward after providing requested service charges or additional funds.

The California Department of Consumer Affairs has prepared the Senior Scambuster Kit that provides tips and resources on ways to protect yourself from telemarketing scams. You may obtain the kit without charge by calling California’s Consumer Hotline at 800-952-5210, or online at: dca.ca.gov/consumer/seniors/scambuster_kit.shtml.

As a final note — should you do everything suggested, yet continue to receive unwanted telemarketing calls, keep your wits about you, take a deep breath, and just hang up!