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Published: 9/16/2008

Telemarketer calls to cell phones on rise

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

It s bad enough when your cell phone rings at an inopportune moment, but when the person on the other end of the call is a telemarketer or a scam artist, the irritation can drive you crazy.

Just ask Dick Eppstein, chief executive officer of the local Better Business Bureau. He gets those calls on his own cell phones all the time, and he expects a lot more now that the Internet has made it so inexpensive to call into the United States from all over the world.

My guess is that many of these calls are coming from other countries, he said, discussing the large number of complaints his agency and others across the country receive about cell phone telemarketing scams. The entire world of fraud is so cheap now that there s just no end of it. And because they re in another country, they do it with impunity.

Over the last several months, the number of complaints of illegal solicitations to cell phones has increased dramatically, according to data compiled by the Web site CallerComplaints.com. The site allows those receiving the calls to list the number of the person calling them and share information about what the call was about, and then compiles the information in a database searchable by the originating phone number.

Telemarketing calls to cell phones are illegal under the provisions of a 1991 law called the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The law holds that solicitation calls can t be made to any service in which the recipient is charged for the call, such as cell phones.

In 2003, the government also rolled out the national Do Not Call registry to slow the growth of unwanted telephone solicitations. Though the registry was supposed to be good for five years, Congress passed an amendment in February that keeps numbers placed on the registry by consumers there permanently.

If a telemarketer repeatedly ignores the list, or continues to call after being advised that a number is on the list, consumers have a right to complain to the Federal Trade Commission, agency spokesman Mitchell Katz said. Consumers may file suit against the telemarketer in small claims court, and can win $500 to $1,500 per violation.

In the five years since the Do Not Call registry was established, the FTC has brought 30 cases against telemarketing firms for violating the prohibition. Mr. Katz said the agency, in its enforcement, doesn t differentiate between land line calls and those to cell phones.

One reason for the increase in solicitation calls to cell phones is the immunity from prosecution afforded by new technology that defeats caller ID, Mr. Eppstein said.

Called spoofing, callers can use special technology to appear to be calling from a fictitious number or even to be another person. The technology makes it even more difficult to sniff out potential fraud.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:lvellequette@theblade.comor 419-724-6091.



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