WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Telemarketing calls are an annoyance, but putting your number on the Do-Not-Call list does not mean you won't receive any unwanted calls. It should reduce the number of sales calls, but there are many exceptions.

For example, political calls aren't stopped by placing your number on the Do-Not-Call list.

Confused? A recent survey from the Consumer Federation of America found that most adults don't know their basic telemarketing rights. The CFA is offering a guide on its website to help consumers avoid telemarketing fraud. It can be found at consumerfed.org/fraud.

"This is all very complex and confusing," said Susan Grant, CFA's director of consumer protection. ''If people want to know more, the guide will give them the ins and outs. Knowing your rights can help you tell the difference between legitimate telemarketing offers and scams.

"We want consumers to ask themselves, 'Should this company be calling me? Why am I getting a recorded sales pitch when I never gave this company written permission to make them to me? Why doesn't the company's phone number show on my Caller ID'? And then hang up if something is wrong," Grant said.

"There are other clues to look for as well, such as whether telemarketers are asking for payment up front to help you settle your debts and whether they only accept payment using a money transfer service or a prepaid card product," she said.


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In 2012 the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services received 17,728 consumer complaints about possible violations of the Do-Not-Call list. Those complaints ranked first, with complaints about telemarketing ranking second at 4,288.

The most frequent violations of the Do-Not-Call law occur because a solicitor: failed to identify his or her true first and last names and the business on whose behalf he or she is soliciting immediately; called a telephone number on the Do-Not-Call list; or made a pre-recorded sales call to either a subscriber to the list or a non-subscriber.

There's lots to know. Companies with which you have an existing business relationship are not violating the rules when they call you. A company may call you for up to 18 months after you buy something, or for three months after you inquire about something or submit an application.

Calls from political organizations, charities, newspaper publishers, debt collectors and people conducting surveys also are not covered by Do-Not-Call, along with a few other exceptions. But you can screen them on Caller ID and not answer them. If you don't have Caller ID, let the calls go to voice mail. However, if a telemarketer is hired by a charity to call seeking donations, it is covered by these rules.

Registrations with the National Do-Not-Call Registry and on Florida's Do-Not-Call list are free, and the state recommends registering on both.

Landline and cellphone numbers can be registered. Go to www.donotcall.gov or call 1-888-382-1222 to register with the national list. Sign up for the statewide Do-Not-Call program at www.800helpfla.com.

It takes up to 31 days from registering a phone number on the national list for companies to remove it from their telemarketing lists. The state's list is updated quarterly.

Even if you don't put your number on the Do-Not-Call list, telemarketers must stop calling you if you tell them over the phone not to call again.

Keep in mind that no sales calls are allowed before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m.

When you answer the call, the telemarketer must promptly tell you that it is a sales call or a call on behalf of a charity, the name of the seller or charity, and what it is selling or that it is asking for a donation.

The telemarketer must tell you the total cost of the product or service before asking for payment, and can't charge your account until you have agreed to make a purchase or donation and to have that account charged for it.

Telemarketers are not allowed to ask for any payment in advance for services to help you settle or reduce your debts, repair your credit record, get a loan, or recover money you lost to another telemarketer.

Specific rules cover robocalls -- calls that use a prerecorded message or are made with an autodialer. A telemarketer can only call your landline or cellphone using a prerecorded message to try to sell you something if you gave the company written consent to make such calls to you. Learn more at fcc.gov/guides/robocalls.

If you have Caller ID a telemarketer must transmit its phone number.

If the Caller ID says ''blocked," ''unknown" or something similar, it's a danger sign of fraud, the CFA says.

However, Caller ID rights do not apply to political calls, calls made by charities and calls to take surveys.

Your Caller ID rights exist even if your number is not registered on Do-Not-Call.

To file a complaint in Florida go to 800helpfla.com or call 1-800-435-7352. To file a complaint with the national Do Not Call list, go to donotcall.gov.

Susan Salisbury writes for The Palm Beach Post. Email: susan(underscore)salisbury(at)pbpost.com.

Story Filed By Cox Newspapers

For Use By Clients of the New York Times News Service