Your phone company is not your friend when it comes to blocking telemarketers

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Nov. 30, 2014, at 9:15 a.m.

Primus Technologies seems to be a hit with consumers in Canada. Since 2007, the company has offered free blocking of unwanted telemarketing calls.

In a survey, two-thirds of Primus customers say they like Telemarketing Guard, as the program is called. A whopping 87 percent of those surveyed say the big drop in unwanted calls is the main reason they stay with the company.

A lot of U.S. consumers likely would be happy if companies on this side of the border offered a similar service. We have all had our fill of robocalls. Despite tougher rules on such automated calling by the Federal Trade Commission, the pre-recorded automatons still harangue us about better credit, “free” cruises and dangerous falls at home.

Indeed, robocalls lead all categories of consumer gripes. The FTC racks up 150,000-200,000 complaints every month — so many that the agency awarded prize money to computer wizards who came up with the best ways of “Zapping Rachel.” One prize winner is offering a service he calls Nomorobo. It detects when numbers are called in sequence or seconds apart and answers with a robotic voice. If the caller can answer a question, the call goes through; if not, it’s disconnected.

We might think phone carriers would jump at the chance to keep Rachel and her ilk out of our phone lines. The chilling truth is that those carriers see federal rules as standing in the way.

At a recent U.S. Senate hearing, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, said the technology for screening such calls is available. She urged “more pressure on the phone carriers to participate in solving this problem.”

An executive with the U.S. Telecom Association, however, testified his members are bound by law to complete all calls. He said they may not be able to employ call screening or filtering software.

A spokesman for the mobile phone industry said wireless carriers are concerned about “overreaching” and blocking legitimate calls.

The attorneys general of 38 states, including Maine, recently chimed in. They’re urging the FTC to update its Telemarketing Sales Rule in several key ways:

— Ban pre-acquired account information, meaning consumer consent is needed for any transaction.

— Clarify the “negative option” in telemarketing. The attorneys general argue a consumer’s silence or failure to take action and opt out of a certain deal does not necessarily mean a customer agrees with that deal.

— Require telemarketers to keep call records. These could help the attorneys general with enforcement actions.

— Ban or restrict several ways of paying, including money transfers.

In a news release, the attorneys general say they support the intent of the TSR but argue it needs updating to reflect current market practices and lessen the chance for harming consumers. You can read a copy of their letter here.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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