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Consumers confused about their rights with telemarketers

WEST PALM BEACH — Telemarketing calls are an annoyance, but putting your number on the Do Not Call list does not mean you won't receive any unwanted calls. It should reduce the number of sales calls, but there are many exceptions.

For example, political calls aren't stopped by placing your number on the Do Not Call list.

Confused? A recent survey from the Consumer Federation of America found that most adults don't know their basic telemarketing rights. The CFA is offering a guide on its website to help consumers avoid telemarketing fraud. It can be found at consumerfed.org/fraud.

"This is all very complex and confusing," said Susan Grant, CFA's director of consumer protection. "If people want to know more, the guide will give them the ins and outs. Knowing your rights can help you tell the difference between legitimate telemarketing offers and scams.

"We want consumers to ask themselves, 'Should this company be calling me? Why am I getting a recorded sales pitch when I never gave this company written permission to make them to me? Why doesn't the company's phone number show on my Caller ID?' And then hang up if something is wrong," Grant said.

"There are other clues to look for, as well, such as whether telemarketers are asking for payment up front to help you settle your debts and whether they accept payment using only a money transfer service or a prepaid card product," she said.

In 2012, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services received 17,728 consumer complaints about possible violations of the Do Not Call list. Those complaints ranked first, with complaints about telemarketing ranking second at 4,288.

The most frequent violations of the Do Not Call law occur because a solicitor failed to identify his or her true first and last names and the business on whose behalf he or she is soliciting immediately; called a telephone number on the Do Not Call list; or made a prerecorded sales call to either a subscriber to the list or a nonsubscriber.

There's lots to know. Companies with which you have an existing business relationship are not violating the rules when they call you. A company may call you for up to 18 months after you buy something, or for three months after you inquire about something or submit an application.

Calls from political organizations, charities, newspaper publishers, debt collectors and people conducting surveys also are not covered by Do Not Call, along with a few other exceptions. But you can screen them on Caller ID and not answer them. If you don't have Caller ID, let the calls go to voice mail. However, if a telemarketer is hired by a charity to call seeking donations, it is covered by these rules.

Registrations with the National Do Not Call Registry and on Florida's Do Not Call list are free, and the state recommends registering on both.

Landline and cellphone numbers can be registered. Go to www.donotcall.gov or call toll-free 1-888-382-1222 to register with the national list. Sign up for the statewide Do Not Call program at www.800helpfla.com.

Consumers confused about their rights with telemarketers 03/19/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 8:22pm]
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