A little truth, a lot of myth about cell phone numbers

October 02, 2008|By DAN THANH DANG | DAN THANH DANG,dan.thanh.dang@baltsun.com

The Q:

Ronald Smith of Timonium said he recently received an e-mail warning him that cell phone numbers were being released to telemarketers.

"Fact or fiction?" Smith asked. "Thanks for any help you can provide."

The A:

Have you heard the one about Bill Gates and Microsoft giving away cash and merchandise for every e-mail message that you forward to someone else? How about the one about the woman who asked to purchase a cookie recipe from Neiman Marcus and then found out they charged her a shocking $250 for the ingredient list? Or how about the one where Oprah threw designer Tommy Hilfiger off her show because he said he didn't want Asians and black people to buy his clothing?

Outrageous, right? And all patently untrue.

Such urban legends are usually false and untraceable, but repeated enough, they take on a life of their own, which is what has happened to this cell phone-telemarketer tale that has found its way to Smith.

Typically, the e-mail says something like this: "JUST A REMINDER ... In a few weeks, cell phone numbers are being released to telemarketing companies, and you will start to receive sale calls. YOU WILL BE CHARGED FOR THESE CALLS ... To prevent this, call the following number from your cell phone: 888/382-1222. It is the National DO NOT CALL list. It will only take a minute of your time. It blocks your number for five (5) years. PASS THIS ON TO ALL YOUR FRIENDS."

There is a smidgeon of truth to this tale.

First of all, the 888 number to the Do Not Call Registry is real. You are charged for calls made to your phone, even the annoying, stray telemarketing calls that you receive occasionally. But the rest of that e-mail is false, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

This rumor started, the San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse says, back in 2004 when the wireless industry revealed that it was looking to launch a wireless directory-assistance service that would include more than 70 percent of the nation's cellular numbers in a database.

After concern was raised, several states passed laws, and the wireless industry said that owners must give express consent before their cell phone number is listed in a wireless 411 directory.

Also, if your number is included, the industry said, it would not be provided to telemarketers nor would your number be shared with those who might want to place sales calls to your cell phone.

The wireless directory was never planned to take shape in printed form, the industry said.

The idea never got off the ground, and efforts to launch a wireless directory were dropped a couple of years ago.

Even so, consumers should know that their cell phones are protected by Federal Communications Commission regulations that prohibit telemarketers from using automated dialers to call cell phone numbers.

The federal government does not maintain a national cell phone registry, the Federal Trade Commission says.

But if you're concerned about your wireless number being released, you can register your personal cell phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry - the same one used for land lines - and owners will not have to reregister their numbers because the list does not expire.

For further proof, Smith can visit snopes.com, which currently lists this cell phone-telemarketer tale as No. 4 in its Top 25 Hottest Legends.

Reach Consuming Interests by e-mail at consuminginterests@ baltsun.com or by phone at 410-332-6151. Find an archive of Consuming Interest columns at baltimoresun.com/consuming.

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