If you often find yourself screening calls you receive on your landline or cell phone by simply refusing to pick up if you don’t recognize the number, you may wonder whether there is anything you can do to slow this flow of unsolicited calls without risking a missed call from a friend who happens to be at a different phone number that day. Fortunately, in many cases, adding your name to the National Do Not Call (DNC) Registry or reporting a robotic caller who has violated the FCC restrictions on wireless contact can be enough to rid yourself of these unwanted calls for good. Read on to learn more about federal laws governing who can and can’t contact you by phone, as well as some exceptions to the DNC Registry that may still permit unsolicited contact under certain circumstances. 

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Who administers and manages the DNC Registry? 

On a national level, both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have the authority to issue and enforce regulations when it comes to communication via electronic or wireless means. This overlapping jurisdiction (along with the agencies’ similar acronyms) can occasionally lead to consumer confusion.

In 2003, in order to improve compliance with a law that had been passed more than a decade earlier (the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991), the FTC established the National Do Not Call Registry. Those who place their phone number in this registry will be protected from most unwanted phone calls until they switch phone numbers or manually remove their own listing; however, the individuals and companies responsible for cold-calling have 30 days to update their own records before enforcement action will be taken, so adding one’s name to the DNC Registry isn’t always an immediate fix.

The FCC is less involved than the FTC in the workings of the DNC Registry, but more involved in the enforcement of laws and regulations governing “robocalling.” While many who are accustomed to receiving unwanted phone calls on their cell phones assume that an entry on the DNC Registry will provide the solution to this problem, the FCC actually prohibits any robotic caller from initiating unsolicited communication with a wireless phone number except in a few exceptional situations. This means that anyone who is receiving these solicitations on a cell phone likely has a viable cause of action against the caller even if that phone number was not previously included on the DNC Registry.  

What telephone contact is still permitted if you’re on the DNC Registry? 

Before you begin angrily dashing off a letter to your local officials for a purported violation of the DNC Registry, you’ll want to review some of the most common exceptions to (and exemptions from) this list – contrary to popular belief, this Registry doesn’t prohibit all unwanted phone calls or text messages, but only those that purport to sell goods or services. 

Communications that may be permitted even without your express permission include: 

–          Calls from political organizations or polling companies; 

–          Informational messages (like automated phone calls about a filled prescription or a change to your child’s school schedule);

–          Business-to-business solicitations;

–          Charity solicitations (as long as the charity isn’t trying to sell you something and stops calling you upon your request);

–          Calls from market research companies (again, as long as the company isn’t also selling merchandise or services); and

–          Calls from companies with whom you already have a business relationship. For example, if you provided your telephone number during a checkout transaction at a clothing store, you may continue to be contacted by that store until (and unless) you inform them that this contact is unwanted. 

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What should you do if you become aware of a DNC Registry violation? 

If you still find yourself fending off unwanted phone calls – even after adding your number to the DNC Registry and informing the caller that you’d like to be removed from any other calling lists – you have several options. 

The first is to file a consumer complaint with the FTC. Although the FTC won’t lobby on your behalf specifically, your complaint will join any other complaints against the same company and may provide probable cause for the FTC to launch an investigation or levy fines against the violators.

The FCC has also created a private right of action for those who are subjected to violations of the restrictions on robocalling wireless phones, which means you can hire an attorney and file a lawsuit against the caller or callers if you wish. While this isn’t always a wise option if you haven’t suffered some type of economic harm, in cases where these robotic calls are interfering with your quality of life or harming your business, you may be able to recover financial damages against those responsible while also obtaining an injunction to prevent further contact.