Is Deb from "cardholder services" calling you with a prerecorded message about an amazing offer—again? Join the club. In 2012 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fielded 2.26 million complaints about robocalls, those automated, computer-dialed phone calls that are a recurring annoyance of modern life. Sophisticated technology now allows companies to blast out thousands of calls a minute, cheaply, to people all over the country. That's a lot of interrupted dinners. But you aren't helpless. You just need to find out who is calling and the steps you can take to make them go away.
Who's Calling: Legitimate Businesses
Companies are legally allowed to send robocalls to your landline as long as the calls are strictly informational: appointment reminders, flight cancellations, credit-card fraud alerts. However, they are not allowed to use robocalls to make sales pitches, unless you have given written permission (usually via website forms). What's more, they cannot legally send robocalls to your cell phone without your consent.
In most cases, old-fashioned telemarketers (that is, actual human beings) are not allowed to call or text your cell phone without your permission, either. But according to federal rules, they can still make sales calls to your landline.
What you can do: If you aren't sure whether or not you've given a company permission to call you, contact its customer-service department. The representative should be able to assist you in finding out—and adding you to the company's do-not-call list, effective immediately. If a company makes a sales pitch when you're on its do-not-call list, report it at donotcall.gov. If you don't know what company is calling you or whether it's legitimate, see Who's Calling: Scammers.
Who's Calling: Political Groups, Charities, Researchers Conducting Surveys
These entities are legally permitted to place robocalls to your landline. That's why political campaigns are such prolific robocallers, as anyone who has spent a not-so-quiet evening at home in late October knows. (A handful of states, including Wyoming and Arkansas, do prohibit or restrict political robocalls.) All these groups need your consent to call or text your cell phone.
What you can do: Campaigns often get phone numbers from voter-registration rolls, says Shaun Dakin, the founder of Citizens for Civil Discourse, an anti-robocalling nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. "So when you go to register or reregister, don't give them your home- or cell-phone number or your e-mail address," says Dakin. "Only your street address is required by law." Getting repeated robocalls from a candidate and want him to stop? "Call the politician's campaign headquarters and say, 'If you robocall me, I will not vote for you,'" says Dakin. Also, you can add your name to the National Political Do Not Contact Registry (stoppoliticalcalls.org). This non-profit, nonpartisan service founded by Dakin will send your name to local and national political parties, candidates, and political-action committees and ask them to voluntarily remove you from their phone lists. While this may not create instant quiet, it is designed to send a message to politicians that robocalls are a turnoff. For charities, you can contact each one and ask not to be called. For surveys, you're out of luck; just don't pick up if you don't recognize a number.