Complaints about automated phone calls up sharply

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WASHINGTON (AP) — So much for silence from telemarketers at the cherished dinner hour, or any other hour of the day.

Complaints to the government are up sharply about unwanted phone solicitations, raising questions about how well the federal “do-not-call” registry is working.

The biggest category of complaint: those annoying prerecorded pitches called robocalls that hawk everything from lower credit card interest rates to new windows for your home.

Amid fanfare from consumer advocates, the federal do-not-call list was put in place nearly a decade ago as a tool to limit telemarketing sales calls to people who didn’t want to be bothered. The registry has more than 209 million phone numbers on it.

That’s a significant chunk of the country, considering that there are about 84 million residential customers with traditional landline phones and plenty more people with cellphone numbers, which can also be placed on the list.

Telemarketers are supposed to check the list every 31 days for numbers they can’t call. But some are calling anyway, and complaints about phone pitches are climbing even as the number of telemarketers checking the registry has dropped dramatically.

Government figures show monthly robocall complaints have climbed from about 65,000 in October 2010 to more than 212,000 this April. More general complaints from people asking a telemarketer to stop calling them also rose during that period, from about 71,000 to 182,000.

At the same time, fewer telemarketers are checking the FTC list to see which numbers are off limits. In 2007, more than 65,000 telemarketers checked the list. Last year, only about 34,000 did so.

Despite those numbers, the FTC says the registry is doing an effective job fighting unwanted sales calls.

The best thing people can do when they get an illegal robocall is to hang up. Do not press “1’’ to speak to a live operator to get off the call list.

If you do, the FTC says, it will probably just lead to more robocalls. The caller will know you’re there and willing to answer, and may continue to call.

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