On the other hand, we were receiving multiple calls a week from a Wisconsin number that either disconnected or left a garbled recorded message about helping us stop a "pending foreclosure" (we're in no danger of losing our home, thank you very much). A quick Internet search found lots of other people were getting similar calls, even though they weren't in financial trouble. The obviously sketchy nature of this outfit meant I didn't want to have any more contact than necessary with the sleazeballs behind it, so the number was added to our "blocked" list and reported to the FTC.

Something similar happened when I answered a call from a local number and was told by the caller that I was being offered a great deal by a general contractor "because you've worked with us in the past." We've never worked with a general contractor, and I certainly wouldn't work with one that lied about an existing business relationship. I told the caller to put us on the company's do-not-call list and reported the number to the FTC (here's how to make a complaint).


The FTC doesn't follow up on these individual complaints, by the way. But it can use a pattern of complaints to take action, and I believe in giving regulators all the ammunition they need. It takes only a few seconds to make a complaint, so I do so - - early and often.

Caller blocking isn't a perfect solution, either. Determined bad guys can spoof their way around a block, and your carrier may limit how many numbers you can ignore. But it's made a real difference in how often the phone rings around here.

Other actions that help:

  • Stop entering contests. The purpose of contests, sweepstakes and giveaways is typically to collect information about you that can be used by or sold to marketers.
  • Opt out. Stop ignoring those annual privacy notices you get from financial-services companies. Respond and tell them not to sell or share your information with anyone else. Sign up for the credit bureaus' do-not-market list at OptOutPrescreen.com.
  • Get stingy. Just because a business asks for your phone number doesn't mean that you have to give it out. If it's an online merchant that may need to contact me about an order, I give it my cell number. If it's a grocery store or other loyalty card provider, they get a number that's been disconnected for a decade. (Why would my grocer need to call me? To tell me those apples may not be as fresh as they look?) You'll find out how many others do this if you're ever without a loyalty card in the checkout lane -- just use a random area code and the number 867-5309. If you weren't around in 1982, ask an elder to sing Jenny's number for you (or listen to it here).
  • Be brief. As I mentioned earlier, ignoring calls won't stop them from coming. But in taking action, you shouldn't give a telemarketer the opportunity to browbeat you or waste any more of your time. Telemarketers are supposed to tell you, right off the bat, what company or entity they represent. If they don't within the first few seconds, interrupt them with "Who is calling, please?" Follow up with "Put me on your do-not-call list." Then hang up. There's no need for further niceties. Make a note of the business or charity name, the number and the date of your request so you can report violations to the FTC.

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  • Don't reward them. Organizations use telemarketing because it's a relatively cheap and fast way to harass a lot of people at once. Giving telemarketers information, or worse yet, money, only encourages them to keep it up. With the leukemia society, I took it a step further. I sent an email saying that if I ever got another telemarketing call from that charity, I'd never contribute again. The society promised to remove me from its fundraising calling list. And so far, they haven't called back.

Liz Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy" (find it on Bing). Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. Join the conversation and send in your financial questions on Liz Weston's Facebook fan page.