There’s nothing more annoying than a stranger calling during dinner to sell you long-distance service or pitch a new credit card. The Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act, which Congress passed in 1994, prohibits telemarketers from calling consumers who have specifically requested to be left alone. The Federal Trade Commission is taking that a step further by creating a national “Do Not Call” registry, which it expects to have operational by October. Legislators recently allotted $16 million for the program. Consumers will be able to add their names to the list for free. Telemarketing companies then have to purchase the registry, and those companies that violate it are subject to fines of up to $11,000 per incident.
More than 25 states have similar “Do Not Call” registries, but those only protect consumers from local companies calling from within the state. Ed Picard, Northeast area director for GovConnect, has helped develop registries for Kansas, Wisconsin and most recently Massachusetts. GovConnect is currently bidding for the national registry.
The Massachusetts “Do Not Call” registry launched on Jan. 1, 2003, and already contains more than 934,000 phone numbers. Consumers can register online and telemarketers can go online to download the registry list. The list is updated quarterly and costs telemarketers $1,100 per year, Picard says. Don’t get too used to a quiet dinnertime, though. In Massachusetts, politicians and nonprofit groups such as universities and charities are not required to purchase the “Do Not Call” registry.