Telemarketers tackle Do Not Call Registry

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - The new National Do Not Call Registry already has 30 million telephone numbers in it, but enterprising telemarketers are trying hard to keep those phones ringing.

Case in point: A Lee's Summit, Mo., sweepstakes company that offers entrants a shot at $25,000 or a car in return for their phone numbers and home and e-mail addresses. If entrants read the contest's rules, they'd learn this: "By completing this form, you agree that sponsors and co-sponsors of this sweepstakes may telephone you, even if your number is found on a Do Not Call Registry or list."


Some telemarketers are probing the exemptions in the Do Not Call Implementation Act, which, starting Oct. 1, will bar them from contacting people who have registered their phone numbers with the Federal Trade Commission.

Telemarketers the law exempts are those who represent political organizations, charities, public opinion or market surveyors, or companies with which consumers have a "business relationship."


Under the "business relationship" provision, telemarketers can call anyone who has done business with a sponsoring company by phone, Internet or in person within the past 18 months. If consumers have merely inquired about a company's product, they can be called for three months.

Otherwise, telemarketers can't call numbers listed in the registry for five years from the date the blocking took effect. That's usually three months after the number was registered.

The registry's Web site is Callers also can register by calling 1-888- 382-1222 from phones they want blocked.

The system should block most telemarketers, according to the FTC's Web site. But Robert Bulmash, the president of Private Citizen, an Illinois-based group that litigates against unwanted callers, is skeptical. He predicts that telemarketing calls will be cut by as little as 25 percent because of telemarketers' exploitation of loopholes and other strategies. "There's going to be a traumatic increase in nonprofit calls. Survey organizations will increase their calls," Bulmash said.

Telemarketers also are working hard to establish business relationships and develop lists of unblocked phone numbers.

ETL Promotions, a Missouri sweepstakes company, tells entrants in its contest rules: "Completing this form may result in a sales solicitation for water treatment, home care/indoor air-quality products, vacation travel, home security, home-based business, food service and other telephone solicitations."

Joe Gout, a spokesman for ETL, said the company's contest forms explained prominently the consequences of submitting an entry and had drawn no complaints from attorneys general in Missouri and Iowa, which maintain their own don't-call registries. Gout said ETL hadn't determined how the FTC's new program might apply to its business, but said the company will abide by the rules.

Meanwhile, the New York-based Direct Marketing Association and Indianapolis-based American Teleservices Association, both trade groups that represent telemarketers, have sued in federal court to stop the new curbs. Their suits claim that the FTC lacks the jurisdiction to regulate telemarketing and the don't-call registry is an unconstitutional limit on commercial free speech.