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Block telemarketers with National Do Not Call Registry

The phone rings. You pick up and unhappily discover the sound of silence on the other end. It's a telemarketer, you realize. Immediately, some fun ideas come to mind. You could pretend you know the person on the other end of the line. Or, exclaim how glad you are someone called because you have no friends.

Humor aside, you could do something smart: Hang up and put your number on the nationwide do not call list.

The National Do Not Call (DNC) Registry, established by the federal government in 2003, makes that easy to do.

It keeps a list of consumer phone numbers that most telemarketers can't call for five years. Those who add their telephone numbers to the registry can expect to receive fewer telemarketing calls after a month. The Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission and individual state governments require marketers to purge their calling lists of registered numbers every 31 days.

Phone numbers don't automatically make the list. You have to call (888) 382-1222 from the number you wish to block or enroll online at www.donotcall.gov. Registration is free. There is no deadline for adding numbers.

If a telemarketer dials your number after 31 days from the date it was registered, you can file a complaint against the caller. Collect the solicitor's name or phone number and write down the date of the call. Violators could be fined $11,000 per incident.

If you enroll in the registry, the only information that will be kept is your telephone number -- and your e-mail address, if you register online. Registration can be renewed every five years; and your number stays in the registry for five years unless you want it deleted or your phone number gets disconnected. To remove your number, you must call (888) 382-1222 from the phone number you want deleted.

But don't expect to eat your dinner uninterrupted every night. A lot of companies are exempt from the new rules. They include companies you have an existing business relationship with, given written permission to call you, charities, telephone surveyors, some banks, long-distance phone companies, airlines and political organizations.

If you ask a company not to call you, it must honor your request even if you have an established business relationship. Companies will have to maintain their own, individual do-not-call lists.

Other provisions of the Telemarketing Sales Rule:

Beware of scams
Remember that registering your number doesn't cost anything and doesn't require you to provide personal information. In fact, when you register a phone number online, the process only requires the phone number for the list and an e-mail address. Unsolicited calls or ads offering to register your phone number for a fee or that ask for personal identifiers to "update" your registration are scams. You can renew your registration for free every five years.

Bankrate editorial assistant Leslie Hunt contributed to this story.

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-- Updated: Oct. 6, 2006
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