Saturday, September 22, 2007

It's time to redial Do Not Call registry

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Consumers who fail to reregister for the national Do Not Call list may start getting interrupted again by telemarketers next year.

Millions of phone numbers will be dropped from the popular program starting in June, when the registry reaches its five-year anniversary.

As part of the rules behind the Do Not Call program, enrollments are valid for five years. However, people can avoid being jettisoned by re-enrolling, ensuring quiet dinners without pitches for credit cards, mortgages and carpet cleaning.

"Consumers love Do Not Call and it's extremely effective," said Mitch Katz, a spokesman for the Federal Trade Commission, which manages the Do Not Call registry. "This idea that millions of people are going to start getting calls after the five years isn't quite accurate. It's like a driver's license - you just renew it, and it only takes a few seconds."

Still, Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., considers reregistering too much trouble. This week, he proposed legislation that would make enrollment in the registry permanent.

Do Not Call went into effect in 2003 after years of consumers complaining about telemarketers disturbing their privacy by interrupting their dinners and television time.

As part of the rules, telemarketers are now barred from calling phone numbers that have been on the list for more than 31 days, or face up to $11,000 in fines for each violation. Participants can register up to three telephone numbers at one time, including cell phone numbers.

Exceptions allow for charitable solicitations, political campaigning and surveys. Companies that have a business relationship with the consumer can call for up to 18 months after the last purchase or delivery, unless the consumer asks the company not to call again.

The Federal Trade Commission implemented a five-year expiration policy as a way to keep the registry up-to-date.

But critics scoff at the idea because phone numbers are automatically removed from the list when people disconnect their lines or when a number is assigned to a new customer.

Tim Searcy, chief executive of the American Teleservices Association, a telemarketing industry trade group, said he opposes any effort by Congress to eliminate the five-year registration period.

He expressed concern for consumers who change their minds and want to receive marketing pitches but who would have a tougher time making that known if the system changes.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense for Congress to get involved in this," Searcy said.

Purging of the Do Not Call registry will be done on a rolling basis, starting in June. People who signed up just after it opened - 18 million numbers were added during its first week - will be the first to be removed if they don't re-enroll between now and then.

In all, the list has 149 million phone numbers.

Registering for the list and filing complaints can be done at www.donotcall.gov or by calling (888) 382-1222.

The Federal Trade Commission has brought 27 enforcement actions against companies that it alleged violated the Do Not Call rules. Those companies paid out $8.8 million in civil penalties, plus $8.6 million in consumer redress.

Consumers sound off on telemarketers in Two Cents. C2

How to keeping the telemarketers at bay

The federal Do Not Call registry in June will begin purging phone numbers that are 5 years old. To place your phone number on the Do Not Call list, verify when you registered a number or file a complaint against a telemarketer who violates the rules:

-- Go to www.donotcall.gov or

-- Call (888) 382-1222

Source: FTC

E-mail Verne Kopytoff at vkopytoff@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page C - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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