More Ohioans and local residents are seeking relief from telemarketing sales calls by signing up with the National Do Not Call Registry.
But despite a rise in registrations, complaints related to unwanted telemarketing and robocalls have soared across the region and the state, according to new data.
Consumer advocates said it is illegal for most telemarketers and sales companies to phone people on the do-not-call list. They said many companies that continue to call numbers on the registry are scammers. Officials urge Ohioans to file complaints against companies that are not complying with federal law, because authorities can seek legal action and penalties against violators.
“We realize it is an issue,” said Marty Berkowitz, spokesman with the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel. “Consumers need to follow the complaint process.”
The number of Ohio phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry swelled to about 8.6 million this year, up 400,000 numbers from a year ago, according to the Federal Trade Commission. For phone numbers with a 937 area code, registrations increased to 1 million this year, compared to 985,175 in 2011 and 945,375 in 2010. In the 513 area code, registrations increased to 1.15 million this year, up 40,000 from a year ago.
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The registry provides consumers with the opportunity to limit the number of telemarketing calls they receive. Consumers simply register a phone number, and within 31 days, most telemarketers are supposed to update their calls lists and remove registered number.
“Once you are on the list, telemarketers should be checking it,” Berkowitz said.
But some companies are not following the law.
In the 937 area code, complaints related to unwanted and pre-recorded sales calls from people who joined the registry increased to 19,450 this fiscal year, more than double the amount from a year ago. In the 513 area code, complaints rose to 69,600 this year, compared to 48,010 a year ago. In Ohio, complaints rose to 178,545, compared to 90,600 last year.
A large part of the increase in complaints is related to scams and fraudulent businesses that are using communication technology through the Internet to call consumers, said Will Maxson, the FTC’s program manager for Do Not Call Enforcement.
Voice over Internet Protocol allows scammers to have virtually no start-up costs, operate anywhere in the world and display fake phone numbers on caller-IDs, he said.
“If you are on the Do Not Call Registry and receive a sales call, you should be extremely suspicious of that call because in all likelihood it violates our rules and is an illegal call,” Maxson said. “Don’t listen to these people, don’t buy what they are selling, hang up on them, do not press 1 or 2, and report them to us.”
Consumers can file complaints with the FTC, the Federal Communications Commission and the Ohio Attorney General’s office, which has the authority to enforce federal telemarketing laws. Businesses that violate the law can be forced to pay thousands of dollars for each improper call they placed. Consumers can also file complaints against telemarketers in small claims courts for up to $2,000 in damages, Berkowitz said.
Earlier this year, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine sued California-based CTI Group for calling Ohio consumers on the registry and violating consumer laws, the office said.
“Even if telemarketers are located in another state, they still have to comply with Ohio consumer laws in order to do business here,” DeWine said in a prepared statement.
Officials said consumers have rights, and telemarketers should respect them.
Telemarketers are required to say the name of the company they represent and also provide a description and cost of the product they are selling. They are also required to disclose their telephone number and name through a caller ID service.
Telemarketers are not allowed to make sales calls before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. They are not allowed to use an automated system to call or send text messages to cell phones. They cannot use recorded messages if they do not have an established business relationship with the person they are calling.
People can file a Do Not Call or fraud complaint at 1-877-FTC-HELP.