Whether it’s “Rachel from Account Services” or yet another candidate promising flowers and bunnies if you contribute to the campaign fund, cold-calls and telemarketers are a hassle and a half. Thankfully, you do have methods of protecting yourself, beyond simply signing up on the national Do Not Call registry. We’ll break down your rights and give tips on stopping junk mail, spam emails and telemarketers.
In this article:
Cold-callers and telemarketers
Your strongest protections are from telemarketers and cold callers. If you’ve registered your landline or mobile number with DoNotCall.gov, companies cannot make unsolicited calls. There is a 31-day waiting period before your registration takes effect, but after that, it’s illegal for a company to cold-call and try to sell you something – mostly.
You can add your number, mobile or landline, on the Do Not Call Registry by going to DoNotCall.gov or calling 1-888-382-1222. Once on the list, it won’t expire unless your line is disconnected or reassigned. You won’t receive any confirmation if you sign up by phone, but you will if you signed up by email.
Your rights as a consumer
Unfortunately, the Do Not Call registry doesn’t protect you from everything. Charities, political contributors, and companies with whom you’ve done business can still contact you at will. Telephone surveys are also permitted. But if you’re on the Do Not Call list and receive a call from a telemarketer, be sure to note the date and time of the call, whether or not it was prerecorded, and the company doing the calling. You can then file a complaint on the Do Not Call website or with the FCC.
Heads up: If you get a phone call from a third party saying that they’ll add your number to the registry, don’t accept. They are probably scammers.
Cell phone apps to block unwanted calls
Again, being on the Do Not Call registry doesn’t exempt you from all unsolicited calls. To protect against anyone else who might filter through, try these tips:
- Android phones: Use a block-call app. Apps like CallFilter and DroidBlock can help screen out unwanted calls to your cell phone.
- iPhones: Use the paid service TrapCall, whose $4 a month plan lets you unmask “blocked” numbers and blacklist unwanted numbers.
Political calls: You play for the other team.
If someone from a certain political party cold-calls you, often, she isn’t looking to convince you to her point of view. She’s looking to place you in one of three camps:
- Same party: You’ll be harassed with calls to volunteer or donate.
- On the fence: You’ll be harassed by people actually trying to change your mind.
- Other party: You’ll be left alone.
No matter your political affiliation, say that you’re definitely voting for the other candidate. (Also, as much as it sucks to be interrupted, try to courteous. The person you’re talking to is probably an unpaid volunteer.)
When all else fails…
Be polite but firm. Before the telemarketer can finish his pitch, firmly interrupt and say, “Thank you, but I’m not interested. I’m having dinner with my family/in the middle of work/binge-watching Breaking Bad right now. Please take my name off your list and do not contact me again. Thank you.”
Again, remember to be nice. The person on the other end of the line is just that – a person – and probably has a family, a job and a Netflix queue too. A little courtesy never hurt anyone.
Stop unwanted junk mail and letters
Unfortunately, there’s no law preventing anyone who wants to from filling your mailbox (the US Postal Service is probably grateful for any business it can get). On the bright side, while robocalls are cheap (and therefore prevalent), direct mailings are relatively expensive. You can get rid of most junk mail by appealing to the sender’s economic sensibilities.
Register your address with DMAChoice.org, a service run by the Direct Marketing Association. You can specify which (if any) mailings you want to receive, and companies that are part of the DMA will abide by your preferences. The DMA covers about 80% of direct mailings.
To opt out of pre-screened insurance or credit card offers, go to OptOutPrescreen.com, a venture backed by Equifax, Experian and others. There, you can stop credit card and insurance firms from sending you shiny packages of cards you’ll never be able to get.
When it comes to dodging charity mailings, remember that direct mail is one of the most expensive fundraising methods charities have. Call up or email the charity in question and tell the representative, “I know you’re hoping to solicit a donation from me, but my resources are already allocated for the next few years and you’ll be wasting your money sending me mail. Please take me off your list.”
Alternatively, if you have donated or plan to donate, tell him, “I’m planning on donating to the charity, but I don’t want to keep receiving mail. It’s not going to be a cost-effective way of getting me to donate, so can you please take me off your direct mailing list?”
Stop spam emails
Spam emails are among the more annoying things in this universe, and they’re even worse when they come from a company you gave your email to once and never want to hear from again. To report spam emails and phishing schemes, forward the email to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the US-CERT website.
Protect your computer
Some basic safety tips when dealing with potential spam emails:
- Make sure that the “from” address is what you expect. If you get an email from LinkedIn, but the “from” field says email@example.com, it’s probably a scammer.
- Don’t click any links or download any files.
- Never ever ever (getting back together) put sensitive information such as your passwords, Social Security Number or bank accounts into an email. If you receive an email from Bank of America asking you to verify your account number, delete it immediately and call up the bank directly to make sure it’s not a phishing attempt.
- Make sure you have antivirus software installed on your computer to protect yourself against viruses.
The best defense is a good defense.
Your strongest defense against spam emails is the vigorous use of email filters. Set up a filter that sends anything with a certain subject line, or comes from a certain person or domain, straight to the trash.
While most email blasts are required by law to have an “unsubscribe” feature, you might well find your email shared between ten different organizations who share the same target audience. Trying to unsubscribe from all the email lists you’ve been added to bears an uncanny resemblance to a game of whack-a-mole.
Here’s a good way to make sure that even if the sender and subject line are always changing, you can still filter out the spam and chuck it in the trash where it belongs. Anytime you have to give your email but don’t actually want to receive anything, make use of Gmail’s “.” and “+” functionality. Here’s how it works.
- The “.” can be placed anywhere in your email, and it’ll still go to the same place. Gmail treats firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org the same.
- The “+” symbol can be added on to the end of your email and include whatever text you like. No matter what you add afterwards, it’ll just go to the email listed before the “+”. For example, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com all go to firstname.lastname@example.org.
How can this help? Once you’ve given a company email@example.com, it doesn’t matter who they send it to. You can simply set up a filter that sends anything sent to “firstname.lastname@example.org” into the trash. Voila!