Government proposes stopping all unwanted telemarketers with a single phone call

Tuesday, January 22nd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The government is proposing the creation of a national ``do not call'' registry that would allow consumers to ward off unwanted telemarketers with a single phone call.

The registry is part of a Federal Trade Commission plan to strengthen existing telemarketing rules that forbid late-night calls and deceptive sales tactics, the agency said Tuesday.

Current rules require individual telemarketers to comply when consumers ask them to remove their names from calling lists. Privacy groups advise that people clearly say the phrase: ``Put me on your `do not call' list.''

The proposed national registry maintained by the FTC would let a consumer stop calls from all companies with one request. Consumer would also be able to allow calls from specific companies or charities through the telemarketing block.

The agency plans to hold public hearings in June on the registry and other proposed changes in telemarketing regulation. FTC commissioners could vote on the changes as soon as a year from now.

A registry would be a convenience for consumers, said Howard Beales, the FTC's director of consumer protection. ``It's one phone call.''

Telemarketers who ignore the national list could face fines of up to $11,000 per violation under the proposal. They say it isn't needed.

``The government may be overstepping its boundaries by spending taxpayer dollars to limit communication that is protected by the first amendment,'' said H. Robert Wientzen, president of the Direct Marketing Association. He said the proposals could cost the telemarketing industry money and jobs by having companies relocate to other countries to avoid the regulations.

Wientzen said people who do not want to be called can request that their names be added his group's list, which now has 4.1 million names. The bulk of telemarketers voluntarily participate in this service and abide by the list, he said.

Many states already have statewide ``do not call'' lists including Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, New York, Oregon and Texas. Some states charge consumers a few dollars per year to stay on the list.

Florida, in 1988, became the first state with a no-call measure, primarily intended to protect senior citizens.

The FTC also proposed preventing telemarketers from blocking their identification on a consumer's caller ID box. Consumers have complained that without the name or number of a telemarketer, the person targeted cannot follow up with a complaint.

The House passed a bill last month that would prohibit that practice.

Proposed changes prompted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks involve expanding the telemarketing rules that now apply to sales calls to cover those made by charities seeking donations, the FTC said. The changes would allow the government to punish charity telemarketers who are abusive or deceptive.

Other proposed changes include restricting the way telemarketers sell credit card protection and promote contests. The new rules would also prohibit telemarketers from sharing billing information about their customers.