How to stop those infuriating calls for good
IT HAS come to my attention that the people of Australia have officially had enough of telemarketing phone calls, so I have appointed myself as their unofficial spokeswoman.
This realisation has come after my own long, frustrating relationship with the elusive "unknown caller", who only ever reveals their true identity and purpose after I've told them my name, date of birth and email address.
The infamous telemarketer has plagued this nation with cold calls and scripted questions for long enough, and I've done some research to find out exactly how we can keep them at bay.
It's a situation we've all found ourselves in before.
You're on a crowded train going home from work, or browsing the supermarket aisle, or juggling the shopping as you wrench open the front door.
Suddenly, your phone rings.
It's an unknown caller but you immediately imagine the worst or most urgent message this stranger might have for you.
It could be your boss calling to fire you, there could be a family emergency, or your bank could be calling because you missed your credit card payment … again.
So you answer the call.
"Hello, I'd like to ask whether you're happy with your current insurance provider," the mystery caller says.
Telemarketers target unsuspecting, busy Australians thousands of times each day and, unless you live in a bunker and desperately crave the sound of another human's voice (in which case you probably don't have a phone), nobody likes hearing from them.
Their calls come at the most inconvenient times, which is always, and usually involve someone fishing for personal details that they can on-sell to other companies, or demanding a commitment to some amazing deal or offer.
And now, with landlines a thing of the past, telemarketers have worked out clever ways to access our mobile numbers, so they can contact us wherever we are.
According to consumer rights organisation Choice, about 54 per cent of Australian mobile users find themselves on the receiving end of marketing calls. That's a lot of people.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is the government body tasked to regulate unsolicited calls and have already signed up about 11 million frustrated Aussies to its Do Not Call Register, a list designed to fend off these persistent phone calls.
So how did you get on that call list in the first place, and how can yourself get off it?
WHO IS CALLING YOU AND WHAT DO THEY WANT
ACMA's general manager of content consumer and citizen division Jennifer McNeil says there are two main sources of telemarketing calls.
One is a business that is genuinely attempting to market their products, like an insurance company, a makeup brand or a smoke alarm business.
The other, is a secondary business that calls people like you and I to gauge our interest in products and services before onselling our personal details to big companies as marketing "leads".
They are known as "lead generators" and they basically do the dirty work on the phones and then point businesses in the direction of their target markets.
"These businesses cold call people to see what sorts of things they might be interested in," Ms McNeil says.
"Depending on how people respond during the calls, these lead generators may develop lists of pre-qualified people that they can then sell onto other businesses to target."
This month, lead generation company Lead My Way was penalised by ACMA for breaching the Do Not Call Register, a list of numbers that telemarketers are prohibited to call. More on that later.
Lead My Way was issued with a $285,600 infringement notice for pestering people who had signed up to the Do Not Call Register.
WHY YOU KEEP GETTING RANDOM CALLS
There are many ways we can inadvertently expose ourselves to unsolicited marketing calls.
According to Ms McNeil, something as simple as checking into a hotel or entering an online competition can put you at risk of contact from telemarketers.
"Very often, when people enter competitions or sign up to offers online, there will be a clause in the terms and conditions that authorises the company to share your details with 'trusted partners' or other companies they think might be able to sell you things," she says.
"When people are filling out these forms and entering these initiatives, they are giving their consent to be contacted by marketing companies."
So just by filling in a form to win that holiday you're dreaming of, or signing up to your favourite store's monthly newsletter, you could be handing over your personal details to a host of other businesses.
"Even when we check in at hotels, there's often a box to tick to give consent to receive marketing materials or special offers from the establishment of their partners," Ms McNeil says.
"These are all things people need to be aware of."
HOW TO STOP THE CALLS
There are a number of ways to stop telemarketing calls.
According to Choice, only 14 per cent of mobile numbers were listed on the Do Not Call Register as of 2016, which suggests many people aren't taking steps to protect their mobiles from pesky calls.
DO NOT CALL REGISTER
This easy-to-access list will go a long way towards stopping telemarketers in their tracks before trying your number again.
The Do Not Call Register was established in 2006 as a way for people to voluntarily opt out of receiving most unsolicited telemarketing calls.
The process is free and quick - it took me about a minute to register my own mobile number online while I wrote this story.
Businesses must "wash" any data lists they receive to remove numbers listed on the register.
Ms McNeil says the process is a bit like "hanging a do not disturb sign out on your hotel door, but it's for your phone".
But she warns: "This won't stop all calls.
"There are some entities that can still call you by law," she says.
EXCEPTIONS TO THE REGISTER
• Registered charities
• Opinion pollsters
• Government bodies
• Social researchers
• Educational organisations.
Don't worry, there are still rules for these guys.
Under the Telecommunications Standards 2017, these callers can't contact you before 9am or after 8pm on a weekday and can only call between 9am and 5.30pm on a Saturday.
And they aren't allowed to call you at all on a Sunday.
It's a simple solution, but one I certainly never thought of until Ms McNeil suggested it.
"If you get a pesky number calling all the time, and you recognise it, just block it through your phone settings," she says.
"There are also products available that allow you to screen landline calls."
READ THE FINE PRINT
It's tedious, especially when all you can think about is the car you could win by entering that competition, but all consumer protection bodies recommend reading the terms and conditions before you enter a competition or sign up to a service.
"There will usually be a special box in the terms where, if you're not careful, you will end up giving your permission to be contacted by anyone for marketing purposes," Ms McNeil says.
DON'T HANG UP ON THEM
According to Choice: "If you simply hang up on a telemarketer, your number could stay on their call list, so you may be hassled again".
"The best way to ensure they don't keep calling is to ask them to remove your number from their list," the consumer watchdog says.
So keep your cool.
Tell the caller politely but firmly that you aren't interested in their offer and don't want to be contacted again, then let them know that you are going to end the call.
That'll do the trick!
LODGE A COMPLAINT
If you do tell a company to stop calling you, you have effectively withdrawn your consent, which means they are legally obliged to obey the request.
But if these calls persist, then whip out the big guns and lodge a complaint with ACMA.
Ms McNeil says consumers can report noncompliance issues directly to ACMA and an investigation into the matter will be launched.
"It's through these sorts of complaints that we are able to issue infringement notices and stop relentless and unnecessary calls," she says.
"It's very important to make a record of when the call was made and the name of the business who called you so we can investigate properly."
In the last quarter of 2018, ACMA have received more than 12,600 complaints and compliance officers made contact with 890 businesses to remind them of their obligations.