Do-not-call list is almost like a feel-free-to-call-any-time list

Complaints about so-called robocalls have soared in the last two years, and federal authorities are hot for new technology to block automated calls.

Like many people, Marlys Burke was thrilled when federal authorities unveiled a "do-not-call list" in 2003. She signed up immediately in hopes of keeping telemarketers at bay.

Nearly a decade later, how are things going?

"Not good," said Burke, 78, of Gardena. "In the last year, I've been getting more and more of these calls, sometimes one after another."

She's not alone. I've been hearing from numerous people in recent months saying that telemarketers seem to have shrugged off any qualms they may have had about violating the do-not-call list, a.k.a. the National Do Not Call Registry.

And the official stats back up that perception, particularly where so-called robocalls are concerned.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, monthly complaints about robocalls more than tripled to about 212,000 in April from 65,000 in October 2010.

General complaints about telemarketers bothering people more than doubled to 182,000 from 71,000 during the same period.


For the record: An earlier version of this report said Wells Fargo took an "internal credit" of 0.001% of money in a custodial account, amounting to a $5 credit for $500. The correct figure is one-hundredth of a percent, or a 5-cent credit for $500.

"The do-not-call list is working," insisted Roberto Anguizola, the FTC's assistant director of marketing practices. "But we're definitely seeing more and more robocalls."

About a year ago, I wrote about the rise of Rachel. If you've gotten a "Rachel" call — and you probably have — you know what I'm talking about.

The typical Rachel call begins with a recording of Rachel from "card member services" informing you that you might be able to lower your credit-card interest rate by pressing 1.

Doing so will connect you with a live agent who will probably request your credit card number and Social Security number. This can lead to, at best, a lousy new card deal or, at worst, some major identity theft.

Informing the agent that you're on the do-not-call list or telling him to stop bugging you will usually result in the telemarketer quickly hanging up the phone. Until the next Rachel call.

"These calls are the No. 1 complaint getter, by a wide margin," Anguizola said. "Not only are they illegal, but in most cases they're hawking a scam."

When I first delved into the Rachel calls, I was able to link them to an Arizona company called Ambrosia Web Design. Using state records, I managed to determine that the company was operating out of a house in Mesa.

If I could track down the source of the problem, I asked Anguizola, why can't the FTC?

"It's not that easy," he replied. "Because the Rachel calls were so persuasive and effective, lots of other telemarketers started doing the same thing."

So Rachel is now everywhere, as are "Shirley" and "Ann," a couple of other names I've been hearing from readers in recent weeks.

"You can track down one source of the calls," Anguizola said, "but there are likely hundreds of others now using the same type of recording."

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