Stopping phone spam

In the U.S., at least.

some description

A few weeks ago an autodialer at a crafts supply chain called us up and played a recording of some perky woman telling us about their fabulous new deals. I called the local store, asked for a manager, and told them that this was a bad thing to do. She was unaware of this bit of marketing. Two days ago I picked up the ringing phone and heard a recorded message from the car dealership where we once bought a car telling us about the “Holiday Express” shuttle service that would take people back and forth to the mall a half mile away while they waited for maintenance work on their cars.

I called them to express my annoyance as well, and got a little worried: was this a trend? It could be far worse than email spam, because you can look through 100 spam candidates in a special folder of your email program in just a few seconds at your convenience, but when the phone rings, you may not know if it’s important or marketing nonsense, so you pick it up.

As it turns out, it’s much easier to deal with phone span than email spam because it’s much easier to regulate. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has some excellent background on the topic, explaining that these calls must include a phone number that you can call to tell them to remove you from their list. I learned that because we’re on the national Do Not Call list, the crafts chain and the car dealership violated FCC regulations. The same web page links to a complaint form where you can tell the FCC about a violation, and I took plenty of satisfaction in doing so.

(You’ve gotta love the picture included with the FCC’s information page, reproduced above—a few clues in it give me the impression that it’s older than the four-year-old Do Not Call Registry.)


By Michael Friedman on December 18, 2007 10:20 AM

Are there distinctions between cell phones and dedicated land lines for this, or is just related to phone number? When my wife and I moved to Dallas, we decided to drop our land line for good. Our “home” phone is our cell phone, and we’ve gotten along just fine in the last two years without a dedicated line. We rarely get calls to our cell phones, but occasionally the computer voice butts in and its particularly irritating because they are using up our (plentiful) minutes.

By Bob on December 18, 2007 10:59 AM

Yes, the third mention of the word ‘wireless’ on the page that I pointed to says that it’s against FCC regulations to send these calls to wireless phones, even if you’re not on the Do Not Call registry, or “any other service for which the person being called would be charged for the call”.

By Timothy Horrigan on December 20, 2007 10:32 AM

I have been volunteering to do phone calls for a Presidential candidate in New Hampshire. In spite of the incredible hype which has been going on for a year now (actually more than a year… 2004/2008 repeat candidates Kucinich and Edwards never really stopped running) about 40% of the registered voters will not vote. Another large faction takes pride in not deciding until election day. And my guy (OK, it’s Edwards, even if I did go to college with Obama) will get maybe 35% of the vote even if everything goes right. Anyway, we have to call about a million people to find the 100,000 or so who want to talk to us.

A lot of those million gripe that they are on the no-call list. However, the No Call Lost rule actually doesn’t apply to political campaigns (although we sure don’t want to waste time calling people who don’t want to listen to us.) It also does not apply to charities (who have some of the most annoying telemarketers of all) or to companies you have an ongoing business relationship with (e.g., that annoying national crafts store chain.)\