Are Cell Phone Numbers Being Given to Telemarketers?

Rumors that cell phone numbers are going to be released to telemarketers if their owners don't sign up with the Do Not Call registry are false.

Claim

Cell phone users must register their numbers with the national "Do Not Call" directory by a given deadline to prevent their cell phone numbers from being released to telemarketers.

Rating

Origin

Despite dire warnings like the one above about the imminent release of cell phone numbers to telemarketers that continue to be circulated via e-mail year after year, cell phone users do not have to register their cell phone numbers with the national Do Not Call registry before a soon-to-pass deadline to head off an onslaught of telemarketing calls.

The panic-inducing e-mails (which circulate especially widely every January or June, since many versions of the warning list the end of those months as a cut-off date for registering cell phone numbers with the national Do Not Call registry) grew out of a misunderstanding about the proposed creation of a wireless directory assistance service.

Cell phone numbers have generally been excluded from printed telephone books and directory assistance services. However, since after the use of cell phones burgeoned in the early 2000s (to the point that many people no longer maintained landline phone service), several national wireless companies (AllTel, AT&T Wireless, Cingular, Nextel, Sprint PCS, and T-Mobile) banded together in 2004 and hired Qsent, Inc. (since purchased by TransUnion) to produce a Wireless 411 service. Their goal was to pool their listings to create a comprehensive directory of cell phone customer names and phone numbers that would be made available to directory assistance providers.

Someone made the wild leap of reasoning that the proposed creation of a cell phone directory was the equivalent of “giving cell phone numbers to telemarketers” and began the chain of wildly inaccurate e-mails warning cell phone users to register with the National Do Not Call List in order to prevent this fate. This warning was overblown, for a couple of major reasons:

  • The Wireless 411 service was to be strictly “opt-in” — that is, cell phone customers would be included in the directory only if they specifically requested to be added. The phone numbers of wireless customers who did nothing would not be included, those who chose to be listed could have their numbers removed from the directory if they changed their minds, and there was no charge for requesting to be included or choosing not to be included.
  • The Wireless 411 information was not to be included in printed phone directories, distributed in other printed form, made available via the Internet, or sold to telemarketers. It would be made available only to operator service centers performing the 411 directory assistance service.

All of these points have been summed up in numerous media articles, such as the following from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

There is a grain of truth in the message making it believable, but it’s wrong on two counts: Not all cell phone numbers will be listed in the national directory planned for 2006. And telemarketers will not have access to the directory. It is illegal for marketers using auto-dialers and most do — to call wireless phone numbers.

Here’s the truth:

A national directory will be compiled, but numbers will be included on an opt-in basis. If a cell phone subscriber does nothing, the number will not be listed. When the directory is ready, it will be available only as part of the existing 411 directory service, accessed by calling in and asking for a specific number. It will not be published in a book or on the Internet. And it will not be sold to telemarketers.

Cell phone subscribers can list their numbers on the do-not-call registry if they choose, but there is no deadline to get on the list, as the e-mail messages now circulating suggest[.]

Cellular users can choose to register their cell numbers with the national Do Not Call registry as an additional measure of protection, although FCC regulations already in place outlaw most types of telemarketing calls to cell phones. (The CAN SPAM Act of 2003 prohibits unsolicited commercial messages to wireless phones, and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 prohibits any calls to cell phones that employ auto-dialers or any artificial or prerecorded voice messages.)

There is not (and never has been) a deadline to list one’s phone number with the national Do Not Call Registry — it can be done at any time. (Contrary to previous statements, the FTC announced in October 2007 that Do Not Call registry entries will not expire after five years, so those who signed up when the registry went into effect in June 2003 will not have to register again in 2008.)

Unfortunately, customers have little recourse against telemarketers who willfully ignore the Do Not Call Registry and violate other restrictions against placing calls to cell phones. Violators can be reported to the FCC, but that organization has limited resources to investigate and take action regarding the thousands of cases reported to them daily.

In March 2013, the FTC published “The Truth About Cell Phones and the National Do Not Call Registry,” in response to recirculating rumors about the national do not call database, cell phones, and telemarketers:

Contrary to re-circulating email:

  • There is no new cell phone national do not call database. There is only one National Do Not Call Registry. It is operated by the Federal Trade Commission and covers both cell and landline phone numbers.
  • Registering your cell or landline phone number is free. Once registered, a number stays on the Do Not Call Registry until the registration is canceled or service for the number is discontinued.
  • There is no deadline for registering a phone number on the Do Not Call Registry.

  • Choi, Candice.   “Cell-Phone Telemarketing Rumor Hooks Americans.”
        Los Angeles Daily News.   10 December 2004.

  • Choney, Suzanne.   “Company Shuts Down Cell Phone Directory.”
        MSNBC.com.   1 February 2008.

  • Dalton Jr., Richard J.   “FCC Warns Telemarketers Against Calling Cell Phones.”
        Contra Costa Times.   20 November 2003.

  • Davidson, Paul.   “Telemarketers Won’t Ring Up Cell Phones.”
        USA Today.   18 April 2005   (p. B4).

  • Drucker, Jesse.   “Phone Directory of Cell Numbers Creates Static.”
        The Wall Street Journal.   14 January 2005   (p. B1).

  • Duryee, Tricia.   “Cellphone Directory Grabs Your Number.”
        The Seattle Times.   13 August 2007.

  • Hajewski, Doris.   “Cell Phone Directory Won’t Be on Autodial.”
        [Milwaukee] Journal Sentinel.   29 April 2005.

  • Kopytoff, Verne.   “It’s Time to Redial Do Not Call Registry.”
        San Francisco Chronicle.   22 September 2007.

  • Mayer, Caroline.   “Bogus E-Mail Worries Users of Cell Phones.”
        The Washington Post.   10 December 2004   (p. E1).

  • Stinnett, Chuck.   “Wireless Phone Privacy.”
        The [Henderson] Gleaner.   14 November 2004.

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