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TELEMARKETING Urban legend and fact create confusion for Do Not Call list



Published: Tue, August 23, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Calls to wireless numbers via automated dialing systems are prohibited.

By DEBORA SHAULIS

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

If you want to add your cellular telephone number to the National Do Not Call Registry, do so for peace of mind -- not because telemarketers are hot on your trail.

A widely circulated e-mail continues to scare some people into falsely believing that telemarketers are on the verge of gaining access to cell phone numbers.

"Just a reminder ...," reads one such note, "31 days from today, cell phone numbers are being released to telemarketing companies and you will start to receive sales calls. YOU WILL BE CHARGED FOR THESE CALLS ... To prevent this, call the following number from your cell phone: (888) 382-1222. It is the National DO NOT CALL list. It will only take a minute of your time. It blocks your number for five (5) years. PASS THIS ON TO ALL YOUR FRIENDS; or you can register on line at: www.donotcall.gov."

The e-mail has been making the rounds since last September, according to the Urban Legends Web site (http://urbanlegends.about.com).

The Federal Trade Commission tried to quash the rumor last December with a note on its own Web site, emphasizing that the registry was for home and cell phones alike and that there is no registration deadline. Even USA Today reported on it last April, in conjunction with a sudden and temporary surge in Do Not Call Registry activity.

Still happening

That hasn't stopped the forwarding of e-mails from one computer user to another.

Asked if it's fair to label this as an urban legend, Mitch Katz agrees. Katz is a public affairs specialist with the FTC, the Washington, D.C.-based consumer protection agency that manages the registry.

Some of the information in the e-mail -- the number to call, Web site address and length of registration -- is correct, Katz said.

It's the mix of accurate and inaccurate details that tends to confuse people, he added.

When the registry opened in October 2003, the FTC wasn't as concerned about cellular phone numbers. "Our focus initially was on residential numbers, because that's where people get the most calls," Katz said.

Besides, Federal Communications Commission rules prohibit telemarketers from calling wireless phone numbers via automated dialing systems.

Cell phone users pay for incoming calls, so it's also not a good sales technique for telemarketers, Katz said.

The e-mail may have stemmed from talk of establishing a national 411 information directory of cell phone numbers, but those efforts have slowed as cell phone service providers have bowed to consumers' concerns about privacy.

The only advantage to registering cell phone numbers on the national registry is "you're guaranteed, to the best of our ability, to get no [telemarketing] calls on your cell phone," Katz said.

Some allowed

The Do Not Call List doesn't prevent all telemarketing calls. Businesses that have established relationships with customers may call for up to 18 months after clients make purchases or payments, even if someone's telephone number appears on the registry.

Customers who make inquiries or submit applications to companies may be called for up to three months afterward, unless otherwise instructed.

Callers who represent charitable, religious and political organizations and those who are conducting surveys also don't have to conform to the registry.

As of Aug. 15, 100.2 million telephone numbers had been added to the Do Not Call Registry, Katz said.

shaulis@vindy.com




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