How to keep those pesky telemarketers off your back

Avoid giving out personal data in any circumstance, especially if you aren’t confident you know what the company intends ...
Avoid giving out personal data in any circumstance, especially if you aren’t confident you know what the company intends to do with it. Photo: Glenn Hunt

It's incessant, relentless, infuriating and intrusive. Telemarketers always seem to call at the least opportune time and for many the problem is getting worse.

Some telemarketers even make incessant, multiple calls, and, according to the Energy and Water watchdog, their behaviour can border on harassment. So how do you stop them?

In 2006, regulators attempted to hand more power to the consumer by introducing the Do Not Call Register. But after 12 years in operation, companies and salespeople are finding their way around it.

The Do Not Call Register

About 11 million mobile and landline numbers in Australia are on the register, meaning that telemarketers should not call unless they have your permission.

But in the wake of the energy watchdog's report, The Age was flooded with stories of people being called constantly by telemarketers, despite being on the register, describing how they are bombarded and harassed, sometimes as often as 10 times in a matter of hours.

Some readers said they felt the Do Not Call Register was “increasingly irrelevant and not enforced”, with companies still able to contact them despite having their landline and mobile numbers on the list.

“We live in Brighton and have two house phones, both on the Do Not Call list,” Pascal wrote. “Every other day we get telemarketers, charities or other unwanted cold calls.”

Another reader wrote: “Even though I am on the Do Not Call Register for both my mobile and landline I keep getting phone calls from telemarketers selling energy.

"I don't pick up the calls and still they keep coming – sometimes as many as 8-10 calls [if I don't pick up] on my landline."


If you’re on the register but have been harassed by a telemarketer, it may be because you inadvertently consented to being contacted by signing up to a newsletter, entering a competition, or filling out an online survey.

Some consumer advocacy groups are campaigning to have the register expanded to include any calls that ask for money.

In the meantime, here are a few practical tips if you want to avoid being called:

Do not give out your personal information, ever

Personal information is a highly sought after commodity for businesses wanting to make sales.

Zac Gillam from the Consumer Action Law Centre said personal data should not be given out in any circumstance, especially if you aren’t confident you know exactly what the company intends to do with it.

“Be extremely wary of people seeming to offer something for nothing, especially if those people are after your details in exchange,” he said.

“Your contact details are valuable and you need to protect them.”

Be wary of competitions that get your consent in the fine print

These can take the form of competitions, surveys or newsletters, all of which collect personalised data on shopping preferences and may contain small print waiving your right not to be contacted for marketing purposes.

Mr Gillam said avoid giving your details away online to anyone who approached you in the form of a survey, a competition, or a newsletter.

Jeremy Fenton, executive manager of the unsolicited communications branch at the Australian Communications and Media Authority said people who take part in competitions need to understand what they're agreeing to.

If you have, immediately withdraw it

The authority says if you do accidentally give consent to be contacted, you can inform the party that has made the call that you withdraw it.

If they persist, report them

The authority has pursued companies in the past for misconduct associated with violations of the register.

If it thinks a company may be violating the register, the authority can issue a formal warning, followed by an infringement notice, and if the matter persists, take the offender to court.

Companies are restricted from calling between 9am-8pm Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm on Saturday, and totally barred on Sundays and public holidays  They are also required to hang up immediately upon the consumer's request.

In 2009, Telstra was fined more than $100,000 after the communications watchdog found one of the telco's call centres had been telemarketing to people on the Do Not Call Register.

The authority investigated Telstra's compliance after receiving continued consumer complaints and advising it of potential breaches.

Mr Fenton says complaints are very useful. "Complaints from consumers are our key source of intelligence. They allow us to identify serious compliance issues and investigate. Where we find breaches, the penalties can be significant."

"You can withdraw consent in a telemarketing call but you must be polite but firm and explicit. You have to say ‘I don’t want to receive these calls, please take me off your list.’"

The register is good, but it has gaps

Consumer advocacy organisation CHOICE says the Do Not Call Register is a good tool, but it could be better.

It is campaigning to extend the register to let people block all calls where there's a request for money. 

"The high-pressure sales tactics used in telemarketing calls mean many people end up paying for things they don't need," said Erin Turner, CHOICE's director of campaigns and communications.

"We think everyone should have the right to keep sales calls out of their home. It's why we want to see reform that would allow people to block all calls where someone asks for money."

Ms Turner said changes were needed to keep up with the evolving ways companies target potential buyers.

"The Do Not Call Register is a useful, free tool but it only stops some sales calls.

"Companies that have an 'existing relationship' with you, that you've given permission to contact you and charities can still call you directly. Our research has found that 88 per cent of people wish there was more they could do to stop unsolicited calls."

with Chloe Booker