Q: I put my phone number on the "do not call" list, but still get unwanted calls. Isn't that illegal? If it is, what can I do about it?
A: The "do not call" list stops telemarketers. It does not stop calls from charities, political organizations, and survey-takers. They're exempt from the law. .
Until recently, someone you had an "established business relationship" with was also exempt from the law, and could also call you even if you were on the "do not call" list. But since October, they've needed your written consent to call. Buying something no longer gives a merchant a green light to call you with ads or sale offers.
The law we're talking about is the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. It's a federal law that has been regulating telemarketers since 1991.
Among other things, the TCPA prohibits calls before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. local time. Originally, it required telemarketers to start keeping their own, internal "do-not-call lists." But those internal lists didn't work very well, so in 2003 the law was amended to require a single, centralized "do not call" list. (Officially, the list is a "registry.")
If your number's on that national list, telemarketers can't call you. If they do, you can sue them for a $500 penalty. If you can prove their violation was willful, that penalty increases to $1,500. If you sue and win, they must pay your attorney fees.
You can put up to three personal numbers on the "do not call" list by going on-line at http://www.donotcall.gov . (E-mail address required.) You can also do it by calling 888-382-1222 from the number you want to put on the list.
Once you register, telemarketers have 30 days to delete you from their system. After that, they're presumed to know you're on the list, and must stop calling or texting you.
The TCPA only applies to calls made "for the purpose of encouraging the purchase or rental of, or investment in, property, goods, or services." That makes the "do not call" list, in effect, a "do not try to sell me something" list.
Calls that don't try to coax a purchase, rental, or investment are OK. Charities, political organizations, and survey-takers are therefore exempt from the law. They can call you for donations, votes, or with survey questions, even if you're on the "do not call" list.
Often, these exempt entities will stop calling, even though they don't have to, if you say "put me on your do not call list."
And if an otherwise exempt charity, political organization, or survey tries to sell or advertise something, it's illegal telemarketing.
Finally, the TCPA also regulates pre-recorded and automated calls. Pre-recorded calls to cell phones and landlines are prohibited, as are auto-dialed calls ("robocalls") to cell phones.
Those calls are illegal even if you don't bother to sign up on the "do not call" list. The only way they can be legal is if you've given written consent to accept such calls.