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Simplify Your Life

You Can Take Steps to Put Annoying Junk Calls on Hold

May 16, 1999|ELAINE ST. JAMES

Dear Elaine: You wrote recently about getting rid of junk mail and junk e-mail, but how do you stop junk phone calls? I've tried for years to have my number permanently removed from calling lists, but the calls still come. I am already on Do Not Call lists, and I don't give out my unlisted phone number.

In many states, automatic computer calls are illegal unless there's a live human asking if you want to receive the message. It hasn't helped. The computers dial on. We need better legislation that bans all commercial calls to private phone lines. Better yet, we need federal legislation to terminate the problem.

Is there a real cure for commercial calls or faxes to my unlisted phone number? We can throw away the junk mail, but those nuisance calls are a frequent unwelcome interruption to our daily living. I'd be very grateful for your response.

-- Z.R.

Dear Z.R.: You and millions of other Americans--we're all tired of the annoyance and the invasions of our privacy that come with those unwanted telemarketing solicitations.

As you know from your Do Not Call lists and your experience with computer-generated calls, there has been some legislation passed to help the innocent phone customer. More legislation and the right legislation might help, but don't hold your breath. So far, the existing legislation hasn't helped much because of the elusive nature of the beast.

The reality is, there aren't many of us who want to take the time and the effort to file a complaint with the FCC or the FTC against a telemarketer, or to request that the attorney general file a suit against one. Sleazy telemarketers with banks of phone lines and no storefronts know this and can easily find a way to keep moving one step ahead of the law.

You mention that you're already on Do Not Call lists, but if you haven't yet contacted the mother of all Do Not Call lists, I urge you to do so. Write to Telephone Preference Service, Direct Marketing Assn., P.O. Box 9014, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9014. List your area code and phone number, date and sign the form, and ask that your number be removed from all telemarketing lists.

It will take several months for your number to be taken out of the system. And then you'll need to be doubly careful about giving out your phone number. As with junk mail, if your name or number gets back on the lists, you'll have to start all over again with your request to the Telephone Preference Service.

This will help with so-called "legitimate" telemarketers, but for those illegitimate callers with auto-dialers, it's like using a Band-Aid when a tourniquet is needed.

So keep in mind that the best defense is a good offense. And an answering machine is the best offensive strategy I know of for dealing with this issue. It's quite simple: Telemarketers will hang up when they reach an answering machine. At the very least, keep your answering machine on during dinner time, roughly 5 to 7 p.m. on weekdays, when most of these calls are made.

Establish a firm policy for your household that you never, ever buy anything by phone. If you happen to pick up on a telemarketing call yourself before your answering machine does, don't hesitate to say immediately, in a loud, steady voice, "I'm not interested!" and hang up. Or better yet, just hang up.

Be sure to teach your kids to follow the same practice, or you might find a case of 10,000 slightly used pencils on your doorstep with a large bill attached.

Having to respond to callers in this way is an annoyance, and it goes against our natural inclination to be open and friendly with people. Also, many people are reluctant to simply hang up because they feel sorry for the person at the other end of the phone. But keep in mind that telemarketing fraud is a multibillion-dollar business. Don't waste your sympathy on someone who works for an industry that bilks innocent, often older, retired and lonely people out of billions of dollars each year.


Elaine St. James is the author of "Simplify Your Life" and "Simplify Your Life With Kids." For questions or comments, write to her in care of Universal Press Syndicate, 4520 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64111 or e-mail her at

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