By Liz Pulliam Weston
Humorist Dave Barry got it absolutely right when he called the federal Do Not Call list "the most popular federal concept since the Elvis stamp."
There's no red-state, blue-state divide on the list, which prohibits telemarketers from bothering folks who have registered their phone numbers. Republican or Democrat, Libertarian or Green Party member, everybody detests telemarketers -- except, of course, telemarketers themselves, who were just about the only voices in opposition to the list's creation.
The numbers speak for themselves:
- 10 million phone numbers were registered within four days of the list's opening on June 27, 2003.
- 30 million numbers were signed up within 40 days.
- 63 million were registered in the list's first year.
Currently, 149 million phone numbers are on the federal Do Not Call list.
Imperfect but better than the calls
The feds can't claim total success. There are still telemarketers out there skirting, bending and outright ignoring the law.
The Federal Trade Commission has brought more than two dozen enforcement actions against companies large and small. The Federal Communications Commission has issued dozens of citations regarding violations and announced consent decrees with several companies, including T-Mobile and AT&T.
The federal Do Not Call law also has some fairly big loopholes. It doesn't apply to:
Companies that have a prior business relationship with you.
But all in all, there's little doubt that the federal Do Not Call list has made dinnertimes much quieter across the nation.
The government's Do Not Call list has kept telemarketers at bay, but companies are making an all-out push to start calling again.
There's just one problem: Registration of your number on the Do Not Call list isn't permanent. After five years, the ban on calling your number is lifted unless you renew your registration.
That means a whole lot of folks are going to start hearing from telemarketers next summer unless they take action.
Act now? Not so fast
I recently renewed the registration of all our phone numbers at the DoNotCall.gov Web site, but then I spoke to FTC spokesman Mitch Katz, who recommends waiting until next summer.
He made a good point: By renewing now, you shave at least a year off the protection time you'd otherwise get. If you were one of the early sign-ups, as I was, you'd get protection until summer 2013 if you renew in 2008, when the current five-year period expires. By renewing this year, I'd be protected only until 2012.
Then again, you might not care, particularly if the penalty for forgetting to renew is having to talk to some jerk about time shares. So either go re-register now at DoNotCall.gov or at least check the site to see when your registration expires and make a note on your calendar to renew then.
More ways to foil marketers
If you want to protect yourself from marketing invasions, there are other actions you can take as well:
Opt out. You can cut down on the credit card offers clogging your mailbox by registering with the opt-out service run by the major credit bureaus. Visit OptOutPrescreen.com or call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688); be prepared to key in your Social Security number and date of birth. You'll have the option of removing your name either for five years or permanently from pre-screened marketing lists sold to credit card companies and insurers.
You can also prevent financial institutions and other companies from sharing or selling information about you. Look for the privacy notices that should come with your statements at least once a year, and follow their instructions. You should have to opt out only once with each institution.
Get off junk-mail lists. The Direct Marketing Association will help you scrub your name and address from its members' mailing list. This won't eliminate junk mail, because many direct mailers aren't association members, but you should see a reduction. The association now charges $1 for the service, whether you register by mail or online. For details, check out its Web site.
Can the catalogs. We're heading into the extended holiday season, which means retailers will be carpet-bombing us with catalogs. Save a tree and your sanity by calling a halt. You've got several options:
Call each retailer's toll-free number and request to be taken off its list. It's helpful to have the customer number from your mailing label.
Tear off the page with the mailing label and mail it to the retailer with a request to be removed from its mailing list.
Use a service such as StopTheJunkMail.com, which does the heavy lifting for you. I started using this service last year, which for $19.95 annually will help you get off catalog mailing lists, and have been pleased with the results. You set up an account and enter the relevant information from each catalog as it arrives; the service takes care of the rest.
Freeze your credit. This is a pretty drastic step and probably best reserved for identity-theft victims and those at high risk of identity theft. (See "Lock away your credit from ID thieves" for details.) But freezing your credit also has the side effect of reducing marketing offers from lenders, insurers and others, since typically they can't peruse your credit.
So far, 39 states and the District of Columbia allow residents to lock up access to their credit reports and credit scores, although in some states the option is limited to ID-theft victims only. For a list of states and their requirements, visit the Consumers Union site, FinancialPrivacyNow.org.
Recently, TransUnion announced a service that would allow anyone in the country to freeze his or her own report at the credit bureau for $10, starting in October. Subscribers to TransUnion's TrueCredit.com monitoring service for $14.95 a month already have this ability to lock and unlock their credit. The other two credit bureaus, Experian and Equifax, are likely to follow soon with a similar nationwide freeze option.
Columns by Liz Pulliam Weston, the Web's most-read personal finance writer and winner of the 2007 Clarion Award for online journalism, appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. She also answers reader questions on the Your Money message board.
Published Oct. 4, 2007