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Financial Education for Everyone

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December 14, 2007

Few things bug me more than unsolicited telemarketing calls - especially on the weekend. That's why my family registered our home and cell phone numbers with the national Do Not Call list administered by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) when it became available in 2003, joining 149 million others. As promised, the volume of annoying calls dropped significantly.

Earlier this fall, the FTC announced that millions of numbers would begin dropping off the list next year when a five-year expiration date kicks in - meaning people would have to reregister their numbers or risk being bombarded by telemarketer calls once again. Fortunately, Congress is working on legislation to make opting out permanent, unless you want to remove your number from the list.

If you haven't already registered, it's easy: Go to www.donotcall.gov, or call 1-888-382-1222. You can register all phones in your household.

The Do Not Call Website and phone number are also where you can file complaints if telemarketers violate registry rules by contacting you against your wishes. Such violators have paid millions of dollars in penalties since the list's inception.

Note that certain organizations are exempt from the Do Not Call regulations barring contact: Charities, political causes and candidates, companies conducting surveys and companies with which you've done business in the last 18 months are still allowed to contact you unless you specifically request to be removed from their lists. Also, telemarketers have up to 31 days to update their lists, so if you're not currently registered it could take that long for calls to cease.

Be aware that the FTC doesn't allow third-party companies to register people on the list, so if someone offers to act on your behalf, hang up or take their information and report it to the FTC. These crooks will try to collect a fee for this free service - or worse, steal your personal information.

Unfortunately, as anyone with a mailbox or email account knows, telemarketing is not the only way people are inundated with unsolicited marketing offers. In 2006, $166.5 billion was spent on direct marketing in the U.S. alone, and close to 100 billion spam email messages are sent each day.

Here are a few things you can do to slow the flow of junk mail and email spam:

Register for the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service. For $1, they'll remove your name from their prospect mailing lists (www.dmachoice.org). Not all companies belong to DMA, so it's not 100 percent effective, but you should see a big drop-off after 30 to 90 days.

If you're overwhelmed by catalogs or other solicitations from retailers, you can either call their toll-free numbers or send in the mailing label containing your address and ask to be removed from their mailing lists.

The same DMA Website above contains instructions for getting off commercial email lists, removing deceased individuals or others in your care from marketing lists, and precautions for preventing identity theft.

Screen your emails. Be very cautious about opening unsolicited emails and never open attachments or click on links unless you know the source. Also, make sure your Internet Service Provider's spam and virus protection software is up-to-date. Ensure your kids understand these dangers as well.

These precautions may be a minor pain, but they're well worth the effort for the peace and quiet they bring.


This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered health, legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.