Just because your phone number is on the National Do Not Call Registry doesn't mean you're safe from telemarketers. Just ask PrivacyStar, which says half of users who file complaints with the company were on this national list.
Telemarketers are guilty of plenty of bad behaviors, according to PrivacyStar, which helps consumers block unwanted marketing calls and file such complaints with the Federal Trade Commission. The company said more than 100 billion spam calls were made in 2013, and it helped file one-third of complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission last year. As a response, on Thursday, PrivacyStar launched a website where people can look up phone numbers of and information about unknown callers.
The company dug up data for Fast Company singling out the five worst offending companies (in no particular order), and unsurprisingly most of them were debt collection agencies. Though the Do Not Call list doesn't apply to debt collectors, they are governed by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which prohibits them from misleading practices, repeated phone calls (some users reported up to 50 in a day), and verbal harassment.
- MCM (Midland Credit Management), a San Diego-based collection agency
- CBE, a Waterloo, Iowa-based collection agency
- Diversified, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based collection agency
- Santander, a Boston-based bank part of the Spanish company Santander Group
- PRA (Portfolio Recovery Associates), a Norfolk, Va.-based collection agency
Dirty tactics include calling people at work and using spoofed numbers. One person complained about repeated calls from the same company using different numbers to his or her place of work. "Leaves threatening messages at workplace about coming to job with legal documents and having me arrested," this person wrote. "Was told numerous times to stop calling place of employment. It was a school and I was going to be fired. He seemed to not care and continues and leaves voicemail disclosing false information about money I do not owe." PrivacyStar said close to 20% of complaints mentioned the caller being verbally threatening or abusive.
The calls also reached extended family members as well as minors, with the debt collector pretending to be an old friend. Someone else complained about the calls reaching his or her grandmother. "Will not disclose what they want and ask for SSN. They started by harassing my grandmother and she told them my name. Have repeatedly asked to be removed from list. They call 50 times a day EVERY DAY!!"
Some calls came early in the morning or late in the evening. "Calling now first thing in the morning or late evenings. I am not sure who they are. I don't talk to them in fear of giving them my personal information or identity," said a person who filed a complaint. Another person said he or she began receiving text messages after blocking the caller: "They even send text messages at 6 a.m. The calls come in but I have blocked them and now they text almost every day, it is very annoying."
Despite these unscrupulous, and often illegal, practices, PrivacyStar CEO Jeff Stalnaker said there is recourse for consumers. "When you think about the economic slowdown and crash that happened in '08, '09, '10, you have a lot of people struggling with debt for the first time," he told Fast Company. "They don't know that if a debt collector broke the rules, a user can be entitled up to $1,000 in their pocket, and their attorney will get the attorney fees paid by the debt collector."