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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 24, 2005


Consumers have options against telemarketers

By Deborah Adamson
Advertiser Staff Writer

Q: Many consumers find themselves called on the phone by telemarketers pushing a product or service. What are our rights as consumers?

A. In Hawai'i, marketing products and services by phone is permitted as long as the seller makes all material disclosures — such as one's cancellation rights, said Steve Levins, executive director of the state Office of Consumer Protection.

The product or service being sold also has to be well explained so that consumers know what they're buying.

"If it's not explained properly, it would be something we would be concerned with," he said.

If the state finds improprieties, it can sue and fine the seller. To file a consumer complaint with the state, call 587-3222.

Unfortunately, it's quite common for seniors to be unwittingly targeted by telemarketers because many are retirees who can be readily reached at home.

If you feel that you've been treated unfairly, and the company isn't cooperating with you, contact the local AARP advocate at (866) 295-7282.

The Better Business Bureau of Hawai'i also has a senior hot line that offers assistance: 536-8609 on O'ahu or (888) 333-1593 from the Neighbor Islands. You might wish to see if there are any complaints about the company at www.hawaii.bbb.org.

If you can, avoid the telemarketers in the first place.

To get your phone number off the list of many telemarketers for five years, sign up for free with the National Do Not Call Registry through the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov or (888) 382-1222.

Telemarketers have up to 31 days to stop calling you. After you've signed up, you can verify your registration by going to www.donotcall.gov or calling (888) 382-1222 again.

Hawai'i companies have to follow the requirements of the Do Not Call Registry, Levins said. But the registry does not block all types of telemarketing calls. Companies with which you do business, political groups, charities, and others to whom you've given approval can still contact you.

Telephone surveyors also can call if they're not out to make a sale.

If you don't want a company to call you — even if you have an existing relationship with it — tell it not to call. Companies have to stop phoning you or they may face a fine of up to $11,000, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

If you don't want to register your number on the Do Not Call Registry, the FTC said, you can still stop telemarketers from calling. Ask them to put your number on their own do-not-call lists.

If a telemarketer violates the registry's rules, you can file a complaint at www.donotcall.gov or call (888) 382-1222. You must have the date of the call and either the name or the number of the company.

For more information on the Do Not Call Registry, go to https://www.donotcall.gov/FAQ/FAQDefault.aspx.

If an unsolicited call still slips through, here are some guidelines from AARP Hawaii and the Hawai'i Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs:

• Tell the caller you don't do business over the phone and hang up. Alternatively, ask the seller to send you documentation by mail or refer you to a Web site for more information.

• Don't give out personal information even if the caller says he or she is from a company you recognize.

Got a personal finance question? Contact Deborah Adamson at dadamson@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8088.