Consumer IQ

5 Ways to Avoid Telemarketers and Their Spoofing Ways

When my parents relocated to Prescott, Ariz., a few months ago, they got a new phone number. But within a few weeks, they stopped answering the line.

Like any concerned son, I asked left messages and asked my siblings if everything was OK. And finally, my father called me back. “We don’t answer the phone anymore,” he announced.  “It’s the telemarketers.”

Ah, the telemarketers!

A cold call to your phone is one of the most annoying – and most enduring – ways of selling everything from water filters to magazine subscriptions. The broader call center business, of which telemarketing is a subset, is enormous. The American Teleservices Association, the trade organization for the industry, represents more than 4,000 contact centers that account for over 1.8 million professionals.

The latest problem: Telemarketers who disguise their identity by pretending to be someone else, an activity called “spoofing.” Using software, they change their caller ID, making you think you’re getting a call from your bank or a government agency. Pretty tricky, huh?

I don’t want to paint the entire industry with too broad of a brush. Some customers want to get calls from telemarketers and they actually buy the products and services they offer. But in my parents’ case, they’d gone too far. Their number had become a giant target for spam calls, and they needed to do something.

Well, Mom and Dad – and the rest of the world afflicted by telemarketing annoyances — here are the five best ways of ending the solicitations:

Ask them.

If there’s a live person on the end of the line, simply ask him or her to remove you from their database. If it’s an ethical company, they will do so. But let’s be honest, many spammers are robocallers (annoying, and you can’t really argue with one) or they lie like a cheap rug, promising never to call you again, but phoning you the next week. You need something stronger to deal with those phone pests.

Use a filter.

Some phone plans and voice-over IP systems allow you to sort your phone calls. For example, I route all of my landline calls to a Google Voice number, which has a pretty good filter for spam calls. Like an email spam filter, you never get the calls.

There’s a downside to this approach: You probably won’t get any telemarketing calls at all, even the ones you maybe want. For my parents, and for someone like me, that’s absolutely fine.

Get on the Do Not Call registry.

The National Do Not Call Registry is a database of phone numbers that telemarketers may not call. (https://www.donotcall.gov/ ) Add your phone number to it, and the unwanted calls should stop. It can take up to a month for your number to go into the system, but once it’s there, the calls should end. (Note: Participating in the registry is completely free – anyone who asks you to pay for it is scamming you.)

Contact Uncle Sam.

Both the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission regulate companies that use phones for marketing. If you’re barraged by unwanted calls, and you can figure out who they’re from, then you might want to take your complain to the feds. The nice thing about having the government make inquiries on your behalf is that even the most crooked businesses will stop what they’re doing quickly in order to make officials go away.

Reboot.

The nuclear option is either not answering your phone or changing numbers. That’s what my parents ended up doing; they switched to a cell phone. Mobile numbers are less likely to become telemarketing targets, although they can still attract some of the more hardcore robocallers. I would only recommend this if none of the other solutions worked.

Like spam, unwanted telemarketing calls are likely to be with us for a while. You may never eliminate them, but with these simple steps, you can manage them.

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions at by email.