Angela Michau says she keeps getting robocalls from a company promising to lower her credit card interest rates. Yet she's on both the federal and state do not call lists.
"We've been getting these same calls for years," she says. "Help!"
Paul Lewis says he gets sales calls from a magazine even though he, too, is on the lists. "I am looking for the telephone number to report the company," he says.
Marjory Hiersch keeps getting calls from charities. "Are there different rules for callers who say they are calling for charities?" she asks.
Rebecca Atwell says: "We are receiving multiple calls from insurance companies and do not want them. We are on the do not call list."
Bill and Amy Barnett tell me, "We have received calls for months even though we are on the Do Not Call Registry. When we push 1 to talk to a rep, the person hangs up as soon as we ask for any information. Pressing 3 to discontinue the calls obviously doesn't do a thing. Any thoughts?"
Yes. Everyone should be on two lists: the federal Do Not Call Registry and the Texas No Call list.
The state list is for residential, wireless and business numbers. It applies to telemarketers both inside and outside Texas. The national list is for residential and wireless numbers, and it applies to calls from other states into Texas.
Even then, there's no guarantee that the calls will stop, but federal and state officials tell The Watchdog that once someone gets on the lists and continues to receive calls, it's easy to complain. Both federal and state officials say they may prosecute.
"File a complaint with the state attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission," FTC spokesman Mitchell Katz says. "The more complaints we get, the more likely we are to take action." The Federal Communications Commission and the Public Utility Commission of Texas also take complaints.
Tom Kelley of the Texas attorney general's office says, "We will surely go after clear and repeat violators of the law."
There are exceptions to the lists, though. In Texas, permitted callers include companies you have established a business relationship with during the previous year, nonprofits and charities, debt collectors and holders of a state license, such as insurance agents or real estate agents.
If authorities fail to investigate, residents can file a civil or small-claims-court lawsuit.
Exceptions to the national list include callers working for political organizations or candidates, charities, polling companies and survey takers. Also, companies may call consumers who have a business relationship with them. That's defined as someone who made a purchase within the past 18 months or an inquiry or an application about goods or services within the past three months.
Although some believe the lists don't work, federal officials point to the many violators that have been punished. This year, for example, the FTC shut down a mortgage and debt relief company, a bogus medical discount company and a time share reseller.
The FTC also fined DirecTV $5.3 million for violations, then fined the company again after more violations, Katz says.
About 200 million phone numbers are on the federal list. About 1 million of those get calls anyway, Katz says. "Sounds like a lot, but it's a half a percent of the people on the registry," he says.
"We continue to track them down. We're continuing to prosecute the cases that we have brought against companies that were offering fake extended warranties on cars and deceptively trying to get you to pay to lower your credit card interest rates.
"We continue to be the cop on the beat, and consumers should continue to file complaints and provide us with as much information as they can get."
Unscrupulous callers use caller ID blocking and spoofing (in which caller ID shows a fake number) to confuse consumers. "And we're now working on a rule that would beef up enforcement in that area," Katz says.
In Texas, 900,000 numbers are on the state list. From 2008 to 2010, 6,000 consumers complained about violations, state records show. Also, 121 complaints were received about unwanted faxes, and 55 people complained about telemarketers who blocked caller ID to protect their identities. In Texas, it's illegal for telemarketers to block caller ID.
The Watchdog filed an open-records request to see some of the complaints in Texas. Better-known companies that consumers complained about include AT&T, Dish Network and Verizon Wireless.
During that same period, the state attorney general opened 18 investigations of companies. Three cases were resolved with judgments against the companies. The attorney general also filed five lawsuits.
Tell the caller you are taping the call and plan to use it as evidence in a complaint to state and federal authorities.
Also, ask to be put on a company's internal do not call list. If a consumer asks and a company continues to call, file a complaint with the FTC.
Michau, who complained about robocalls from a company promising to lower her interest rates, came up with her own tactic. She told me: "The last time I got a call, I talked gibberish very loudly, and I have not been bothered in a while. Maybe that did the trick!"
Hey, whatever works.
Sunday: Give rental cars a thorough examination before driving away.
The Watchdog column appears Fridays and Sundays. Dave Lieber, 817-390-7043