June 21, 2005 12:00 PM PDT

Telemarketers target cell phones

After years of impunity, America's 190 million cellular telephone subscribers are now more apt than ever to encounter telemarketers.

There was a rash of complaints to federal regulators 18 months ago when telemarketers were confused by new rules allowing people to transfer their home telephone numbers to cell phones, which then started ringing with telemarketing calls. Then in March, BellCanada cellular customers were targeted by a company pitching a low-cost trip to Mexico. The same message has recently surfaced in San Francisco.

"The last thing you want to hear from is a telemarketer when you're stepping out of the commuter train in the morning."
--Jen Schwartzman, FTC spokeswoman

"What can be done about this?" cell phone user Ben Wexlar, who received a telemarketing call, wondered in a News.com forum.

Not much, unfortunately. Just about the only recourse a consumer has is to subscribe to the National Do Not Call Registry.

Cell phones are just too juicy a target for some telemarketers to ignore. There are now more cell phones on the planet than land lines. And calls to cell phones lead to a more targeted audience because the home phone can be answered by any number of people. A cell phone, on the other hand, typically is answered by only one person.

But the telemarketers' sweet spot is a very sore spot for consumers. "Your cell phone is your portable communications, it's much more personal," said Federal Trade Commission spokeswoman Jen Schwartzman. "The last thing you want to hear from is a telemarketer when you're stepping out of the commuter train in the morning."

For their part, telemarketers suggest that what cell phone users are now experiencing is largely unintended. They say telemarketers aren't targeting cell phones, but sometimes mistakes happen. "So many of our customers are switching to cell phones," and provide the dealer with a cell phone number, causing the confusion, said Paul Cleaver, the owner of a Lexington, Ky., Dodge dealership that uses telemarketing.

In the most wide-scale telemarketing cases, cell phone customers in the same area code are getting the same calls on the same day, according to several accounts. That suggests the use of auto dialers, which is what BellCanada says happened when many of its cell phone customers were hit with telemarketing calls in March. It's unclear who was actually making the travel pitch. The North American Numbering Plan Administration, which administers phone numbers, did not respond to a request for information about the origin of the calls.

Aggravation aside, the telemarketing calls to cell phones are most likely illegal. Federal rules forbid using automated dialing machines to reach any phones, such as a cell phone, in which incoming calls cost the subscriber money. Under the rules, telemarketers are allowed to dial each number by hand, but that would be ridiculously labor-intensive, said Rosemary Kimball, a Federal Communications Commission spokeswoman.

Cell phone providers and their subscribers aren't entirely helpless. Verizon Wireless last year won a permanent injunction stopping a Rhode Island resident from sending unsolicited text messages touting real estate deals to Verizon customers.

The most immediate option for consumers is to sign on with the Do Not Call Registry on the Internet or call 1-888-382-1222 from the phone number to be registered.

The Do Not Call database does not distinguish between cell and land-line phone numbers, but Schwartzman figures many cell phone customers are among the 34 million numbers added since January. The registry received 9 million new sign-ups alone the week a privately generated e-mail warned of telemarketers eating up subscribers' minutes with unwanted calls, she said.

In many cases, that list is the consumer's only recourse. "After the unpleasantry (of getting a telemarketing call on a cell phone), I called my carrier, Verizon Wireless, to report it, and of course they could only suggest that I sign my number up on the www.donotcall.gov list," wrote someone named Diana at popular cell phone Internet chat room CellBanter.com.

Calling a telephone registered on the Do Not Call list can open a telemarketer to a fine of up to $500 for each call, which triples to $1,500 if the telemarketer can be shown to have deliberately skirted state and federal anti-telemarketing laws.

States can also file civil lawsuits against telemarketers, and the FCC can levy fines against telemarketers after investigations generated by civilian complaints, which can be made via e-mail at fccinfo@fcc.gov, or on the Web.

Telemarketers are also dialing an increasing number of European cell phone subscribers, potentially another marketing gold mine because in some locations cell phones outnumber people. "From our research experience, I can tell you that these kinds of calls are an increasing issue," Torsten Brodt, of the University of St. Gallen's Institute for Media and Communications Management, wrote to News.com.

The institute has yet to study telemarketing specifically, but has investigated something related to it: the number of unsolicited e-mail pitches being sent to cell phones. Mobile spam, as it is known, is also all but outlawed in the U.S. primarily because operators typically charge a fee to receive any kind of text message. More than a quarter of North American cell phone subscribers received some form of mobile spam, according to data St. Gallen's Institute published in February.

For its part, a cell phone industry group says operators are leaning on technological tricks, such as installing software that detects text messaging between cell phones, to help spot telemarketing pestilence such as mobile spam.

"We're doing what we can to ensure that wireless numbers don't get in the hands of telemarketers," said a spokeswoman for CTIA, the wireless association. "No operator is giving wireless numbers to telemarketers."


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Which part of "Do not call" these marketers don't understand???
I was recently called on home phone and I told guy that I put my number on "Do not call list",which he started arguing that those rules do not apply to them or something.
Well I HANG UP on guy.
Reason I am on "Do no call list" is cuz I do NOT want any telemarketing calls coming to my phone.
You call and I hang up.Easy fix.
Why are telemarketers still thinking they can convince me to do something I do not want?
Posted by (32 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well you could....
make a complaint to here <a class="jive-link-external" href="https://www.donotcall.gov/default.aspx" target="_newWindow">https://www.donotcall.gov/default.aspx</a> and just remember to get his/her company name and his/her name if the is willing to give it to you and file a complant, it might or might not do some good.
Posted by (22 comments )
Link Flag
I hang up on guy!
This is Kirpal.

She come to my house, and she kick it; now my dog need operation! WHY DID SHE DO IT!
Posted by katamari (310 comments )
Link Flag
Cellphone etiquette
Will we some day be able to buy a cell phone device that delivers a cattle prod level shock to the spammer who calls you?
Posted by (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Get Used to What?
Those telemarketers just don't get it, huh? let me try to call them 24/7 and sell useless products and services to them :)
Posted by 201293546946733175101343322673 (722 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I Like the Seinfeld Approach.
When a telemarketer calls you, tell them that you're busy right now and if they would give you their home number and a reasonable time window during which you can call them, you'll be happy to get back to them.

Most of them fail to see the irony.
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
Link Flag
telemarketing deposit
Methinks that there should be a pre-message to telemarketers that they are required to deposit a significant amount before continuing with a cellphone call. So this to compensate further obnoxious telemarketing calls (there otta be a law!!!)
Posted by mikeyguy (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
They will continue to call
Funny - I hate telemarketers as much as anyone else, but there is a reason they continue. Someone is listening and taking the calls.

Who are these people that are facilitating this method of sales?

Stop it please!
Posted by richtestani (23 comments )
Link Flag
If our Cellar Phone.........
services had a way like the landline phone service do. They provide a service for a fee that when some one calls and there ID is blocked it puts it thur and answering service asking them there name and reason for the call. Then it would give you a diffrent ring tone to let you there is caller and if you want to answer them. If cell phone could provide that for a fee they want have to charge you for air time.
Posted by (22 comments )
Link Flag
This is Spam
I don't care what anyone says, Telemarketing calls are no different from Spam. They are unsolicited invasions of my time and my property. I do not want unsolicited crap in my email, and I don't want it on my cell phone either.

Why won't congress do something useful and outlaw this garbage?
Posted by (274 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You got it!
Agreed -- completely 100% synonymous with spam.
Posted by katamari (310 comments )
Link Flag
Isn't there a law...
...that prohibits telemarketers from calling people if the call will be charged to the called party? That was the reason why junk faxes were outlawed. If you don't beleive me, just go ask fax.com...Oh yeah, you can't because the government fined them out of existance about a year or two ago.

Recieving a telemarketing call on your cell phone I will not tolerate, and I don't care what the experts say. It's bad enough on my home phone, but on my cell phone? I'll send the telemarketer a bill for calling me. It's just like SPIM, where the cell operator charges your $0.10 for each SMS text message that you open, and you find out it was SPIM (Text Message Spam), and you have to pay for it.

The reason why telemarketers have not started calling cell phones is the possibility of a major consumer backlash and government intervention in response to public outcry that this would cause. Remember some months back when they said that SPIM was going to be a major problem? I haven't seen or heard anything materialize yet. I don't think this will pan out either.

Anyways, the way that I handle telemarketing calls depends on the situation.

1) I tell them that I am not interested.

2) If they don't listen, then what I will do is set the reciever down and go do something else and let them talk to themselves. Time is money, right?

3) If they really tick me off, I'll insult their mother, upbringing, them, their company, and/or their product, etc before I slam the phone down on them. Then I'll forward the number to the DSL line where there is a very loud modem waiting for them to call.

4) If I'm feeling really ticked off, I'll transfer their call to the police or some other law enforcement agency. Knowing these telemarketers, I wouldn't be suprized if they tried to sell something to whoever picks up the phone. The last one I transfered to the local FBI field office.

And the one that really irks me: You get a phone call, and when you answer it, you get a recording stating to please wait for the next available operator. In otherwords, they call you, then put you on hold. Talk about rude, that will garuntee that there will not be a sale. Sometimes I'll just hang on so I can chew out the operator for working for such a moronic comany. Othertimes, I'll just transfer them somewhere else, such as the local police or FBI field office.
Posted by Maelstorm (130 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Do your duty...
Look, signing up for the national "do not call" list is not optional, it's a sacred obligation of citizenship: we can't put these idiots out of business until so many of you are signed up that they have no base of numbers to work from. It doesn't matter whether you have a cell phone or land line, SIGN UP NOW.

And as a public service for the environment I'll point out that a list of this type also exists for junk snail-mail. The National Direct Marketing Association promised the government they would keep and use a "do not mail" list in exchange for not being regulated, and it works very well--in 5 years I've gotten almost no junk mail not generated by my own activity with companies. Here's info on how to get on that list: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.dmaconsumers.org/cgi/offmailinglist" target="_newWindow">http://www.dmaconsumers.org/cgi/offmailinglist</a>
Posted by Razzl (1318 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Paying for incoming calls
North America is the only region I know of that charges it's customer for taking phone calls on a cell phone.

This is what makes the telemarketing thing so bad, you actually pay to receive calls you don't want.

Whether you pay in cash or minutes is irrelevant, but it just goes to show how bad US and I'm guessing Canadian customers are treated compared with other countries.

You guys have almost no real consumer rights and no regulatory body to punish telecoms companies when they rip you off (the FCC is bought and paid for, so you've got no protection there).

Put it this way, would you pay to receive incomming calls on a land line? So why are you paying to receive calls on a cell phone?

In Europe they consider it bad enough that cell phone calls cost more than regular land line calls, and are close to forcing networks to charge similar fees.

The only answer is for the FCC to be scrapped, replaced with a true independent body for each area of communications, each with real power to regulate and force consumer friendliness.

The idea here is that government is supposed to represent the people that pay for it, and act in their best interests, not the other way round.

So if cell phone networks can't be trusted to treat their customers properly, they need to be slapped down. The same applies to telemarketers, cable companies, satellite comms etc.

And no I'm not saying such a system would be without corruption and couldn't be influenced by corporate business, but it would work better than the existing setup.

Ofcourse things are far from perfect in any country, but sometimes it's better to put up with a few extra government agencies, than put up with being stiffed by everyone you connect to and through.
Posted by ajbright (447 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I think you do not fully understand the situation in the rest of the world. Although you do not pay for incoming calls in Europe, the call is not "Free". In Europe and most of the world, they have a 'caller pays' system for cell phones calls. That means that instead of you, the cell phone owner being charged for a call, the person who calls you pays for the call. And believe me, they pay through the nose. . If you think you're being ripped off here, think about Europeans who have huge phone bills if most of their friends only have a cell phone.

Calls to a European cell phone, even within the same country cost an exhorbitant amount, often 40-50c per minute. Do you really want your friends and associates who call you to have to pay $24 for a one hour ccall to your phone? Under the north american system, the person who owns the cell phone is the person responsible for paying for airtime used on his own cell phone. That puts the responsibility with the person who made the decision to switch to a cell phone, rather than someone else who had no say in the matter.

Somebody's going to pay for the airtime use on your cell phone afterall. Are you the one responsible for your own airtime, or is it your friends and family who call your cell phone?
The effect of the US/Canadian system is that all your friends and associates can call you for free. And all it costs you is minutes from your minute allotment. (And increasingly, it doesn't cost anything if you have an unlimited plan (such as Virgin Mobiles $49.95 unlimted USA plan).
Posted by chimayy (2 comments )
Link Flag
Why is there still even a market for telemarketing AT ALL????
Seriously, who do you know EVER carries on a conversation with these people??? I personally hate the ones that call with an automated message saying "Do you oppose gay marriage?" ***!!!!!

The answer is, NO, as if it is ANY OF THEIR F'ING BUSINESS!!!!
Posted by jamie.p.walsh (288 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Someone should develop a service
that forwards any call that comes to you with a restricted number to a pay per minute service.
Posted by jamie.p.walsh (288 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Wow what a great idea!!
Posted by Mrklee (1 comment )
Link Flag
Market Research, Charity, Political Loophole
The reason that many of you are getting TM calls even though you are on the National Do Not Call List is because Congress allowed an exemption (i.e. lobbyists bought them off) for 3 groups -- market research firms, charities, and political fundraisers. The Market research firms are the most egregious, and constitute the majority of unsolicted calls I receive. In order to get off their list, you must deal with each MR firm directly. There is no single Do Not Call list for MRs. And they will not diviluge how they got your number. They use 3rd party intermediaries who I suspect actually use the DNC list itself for victims.

Here's how I deal with MR firms. When they call, I ask for their name, phone#, company name, address, website, etc. Make it as inconvenient for them as possible. They have to tell you this info by law, and they hate to do it because it burns up their time. Then ask to speak to their supervisor. Strongly state to this person that you want to be on their do not call list. Hang up. Now go to their company's website. Look for contact info including 800#s. Now call them up using their 800# and ask to speak to the VP or Director of Marketing. Now grill him/her. Tell him what he is doing is unethical because it violates the spirit of the DNC law. Ask him how he can sleep at night. Ask him if he believes in God, and if God approves of what he us doing. Make it PERSONAL. Now reiterate that you want to immediately be put on their DNC list. Hang up. Now, if you still crave satisfaction, and have access you to your own demon dialer, repeatedly call their 800#s. You can also use their dial-by-name vmail directory to get the names of other people in their company. Call these numbers and leave nasty messages. As a further act of shaming them, you can put their name on your website along with their dirty tricks. When their prospects use Google, your site will come up along with theirs. Turn their own tactics back on them!

Basically people, you need to stop acting like sheep, and stop merely complaining. You need to get aggressive with these people and make their life unpleasant. Waste THEIR time. It does work. And if enough people do this it will make it uneconomical for them to keep doing it. The market research companies' time is expensive, they have bigger fish to fry, and they need a measure of respectability to continue in business. If their customers find out they are wasting their marketing dollars by calling people who do not want to be called, they will stop using these firms.
Posted by Stating (869 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Cell Phones/Telemarketing
I was surprised that this article was published in June 2005 because in beginning in 2004, telemarketers were required by law to start scrubbing their lists on a monthly basis of any landlines that were converted to cell phones. It is illegal in the first place for cell phone companies to dial cell phones using an autodialer - and most of them do (it would be too costly and inefficient not to). Pls check your facts CNET! Thanks.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I just got a telemarketing call on my cell phone and it is now 2009. My phone has never been a landline number.
Posted by chimayy (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
this is so bull **** i am paying for my cell phone to get called by ******* people all day and night i use my cell phone as my alarm and now i cant because ******* people keep calling me while i pay for them to talk to me there needs to be a law for stealing minutes from me every day
Posted by Jagerbarr67 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I found out a company called Global Crossing out of Deerfield, FL One of the numbers is 954-719-4093. 646 -558 -5560,714-055-105573,7415-551 5570. 1 800- 663-8810, 1 800-319-0690. I call back like a dope and I am charged $.40 and I am told to wait for the next operator.
Posted by sjkyte (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
AT&T should do something besides credit my account.
Posted by sjkyte (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Alright, here's the deal.
I worked briefly in a telemarketing office.
My job was to call existing customers, (That's right, EXISTING,) and get them to continue with a service they already received, many of them for years.
It was great when people like all of you started yelling as soon as I identified myself. Do you think we enjoy calling people that don't want what we're selling? Trust me: I have better things to do than to randomly call people to take their verbal abuse. (Especially if you're mad because you don't recognize the legal name of a company you've done business with for years. It's definitely my fault that you don't know to whom you've been giving money.)
If you're the kind of person who validates yourself by feeling the need to "insult their mother, upbringing, them, their company, and/or their product, etc before I slam the phone down on them. Then I'll forward the number to the DSL line where there is a very loud modem waiting for them to call" you are a very sad and pathetic individual, and probably in need of counseling and some higher education.
And for the record, if someone did abuse us in such a way, a lot of the time we'd make sure the computer recycled their number for more calls rather than placing them in the "not interested" file, where the polite declinations of service went. Nice work, tough guy. I'm sure your parents are very proud of you.

We didn't magically get your cell phone numbers: YOU provided them in some way or another. The great part is most companies get your number by YOU signing up for some kind of sweepstakes. When you agree to terms, you're authorizing telemarketing calls. It is not the callers' faults that you are unable to read "Terms and Conditions." Try reading what you are agreeing to before you scream and get reactionary.
And please, people: learn some grammar and spelling, because when you don't know the proper homonym of "there" or "your" or "to," you're making yourself look like more of an idiot than the people you demonize, and call "idiot," for merely calling your phone.
Which is more stupid: calling a number that has expressed interest (even unintentionally,) in a product you're selling, or failing to exhibit a second-grade reading level?

The moral of the story: Politely and firmly decline the service once you've determined that it's not something in which you're interested. It wastes a lot less of your time, and ensures that your number is truly removed and not recirculated out of spite. Keep in mind that you're dealing with an employee of a company, and not the company itself. Abusing the caller is a lot like punching a BP gas attendant because you're mad about the oil spill.


Posted by BertoBertoBerto (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Berto, maybe the people YOU called had provided their cell phone numbers in some way. But I have NEVER provided my cellphone number to anyone affiliated with the scammers who are calling me. I don't provide my cellphone number to business that I deal with, except for local shops like my mechanic who needs to call me when my car is ready. I don't give it to my bank, my credit card companies, any magazines I subscribe to, etc. I definitely don't put it on anything like a sweepstakes entry. Any place that insists on a phone number gets my Google Voice number, which goes straight to Voice Mail and has NEVER been connected to my cell phone number.

I usually don't answer calls from numbers I don't know. But I've answered a couple of the telescam calls, and the caller didn't even know my name. These aren't companies I deal with. They're probably sleazeballs robodialing through an exchange. And my cell number is an original cell number, not a ported landline number. So they should know it's a cell number.

The article points out that it's illegal to robodial cell phone numbers. Then it goes on to say there's nothing we can do about it. ***? If these guys are consistently breaking the law, why can't they be busted?
Posted by net-vtracker (1 comment )
Link Flag
Yes you are correct in that however the existing business clause does not cover automated calls to cell phones that is illegal under all circumstances. Cell phones must be dialed manually by a person.
Posted by nbmiii (1 comment )
Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.