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Legal Matters: Telemarketing calls are annoying and in some cases may be illegal

Robocalls and telemarketer calls can be annoying, but are they illegal? And if they are, how can a call recipient try to stop them?

The calls may be illegal if you have registered your telephone number with the national Do Not Call registry, donotcall.gov. The registry, operated by the Federal Trade Commission, accepts landline and cell phone numbers. Information about registering your cell phone is available at www.consumer.ftc.gov.

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Experience suggests that calls will keep coming even after you have registered your number and waited the 31-day period for the registration to be effective. Robocalls, many of them from overseas-based callers, continue to soar, CNBC reported on June 25, 2017. But you may be able to get the number of unwanted calls down by registering.

Some organizations are exempt from do not call regulations and may call you even if you have registered your telephone number. Charities, political organizations, companies with which you have done business in the past 18 months and telephone surveyors are still allowed to contact you unless you have specifically requested that the charity, organization, surveyor or company remove you from its call list.

If the robocall originating number has not been blocked, and you are able to get it, you can file a complaint with donotcall.gov. To complain, go to www.donotcall.gov or call 1-888-382-1222.

The Maryland Telephone Consumer Protection Act provides that anyone who has been found in violation of the federal act has also violated the state statute. A Maryland call recipient may file suit to recover actual financial losses, if any, or up to $500 for each violation.

If you answer a telemarketing call, the FTC advises not giving out any personal or financial information, such as whether you own your home, your Social Security number, or any credit card or bank account information. The information could be used to commit fraud.

Some robocalls manipulate information that shows up on caller ID to try to trick the phone owner into answering the call. In an effort to stop the practice, the Federal Communications Commission voted in November 2017 to allow telephone carriers to block these calls.

Manipulated calls have been used to perpetrate frauds. In one example, the callers tried to convince recipients that the call was from the Internal Revenue Service. The callers ordered the recipients to give them a credit card number or to wire money to cover “back taxes” the recipient did not actually owe.

If you respond to a robocall, the FTC advises you not to follow any recorded instructions. If you “press 1 now” because the recording promises you more information, your action may be interpreted as permission to sell your phone number to other solicitors.

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