TAMPA BAY - Do you ever get harassing, unwanted telemarketer calls or texts on your cell phone? You may have signed yourself up for some of their call lists without even realizing it.
"There's no escaping it," said Michael Downer, a district manager for Coca-Cola who says he frequently gets the calls.
Downer gets the calls on his work phone, so he has no choice but to answer. He says he isn't sure how he got on the call list.
There is a National Do Not Call registry, and it is illegal for a telemarketer to call anyone on the registry. But they still can call if you give them permission. You may have given a business permission without even realizing it.
"You have the right to privacy," said consumer attorney Billy Howard, of Morgan and Morgan.
Howard has successfully sued telemarketers for harassing consumers. He told us about 3 ways people make it easy for telemarketers to bombard them with calls.
1. Giving your phone number to companies
Many consumers provide their phone number whenever they are asked. They could sign up for store credit cards, or provide their information to enter a contest or to get extra deals from a business they use.
Howard recommends you avoid giving your phone number if at all possible. If the business does require it, demand that they show you in writing that they will not sell your info or use it to solicit you. If they can't meet that demand, you may not want to do business with that company.
"You don't want people to call you, then stop giving out your phone number," Howard said.
"They make it that long so you don't read them," Downer said.
Even donating to some charities could get you on a call list. Some charities use telemarketers to raise funds, and they could end up keeping your information.
"Tell these charities, if you do want to give them information, they are not to share your information with anybody, and try to get that from them in writing," Howard said.
Howard also recommends turning the tables on telemarketers, if they continue to harass you. Demand to be removed, and ask for the caller's name and to speak to their supervisor. If they continue to call, you can threaten to call the authorities or take them to court. Howard says in some cases, telemarketers have to pay as much as $1,500 per phone call.
"Even those guys don't want the FBI involved, even those guys don't want to be sued. If you threaten that, it can stop it," Howard said.
Even though the Do Not Call Registry isn't perfect, it can significantly reduce the number of telemarketing calls you get. You can sign up your phone numbers (including cell phone numbers) at https://www.donotcall.gov/ .
Howard also recommends you press the telemarketer for details about the business. What the company's name is, where they are located, what the caller's name is, and who the manager is. While some telemarketers are very difficult to track down, Howard says any details you get can help you file a complaint with a consumer agency or the FBI.