WASHINGTON — An e-mail warning consumers that cell phone numbers will soon be released to telemarketers is making the rounds again, and government officials have a key detail they'd like to add: it's totally bogus.
The e-mails say that recipients must add their cell phone numbers to the federal government's Do Not Call registry by a certain deadline in order to avoid being deluged by telemarketing calls.
But there is no deadline, cell phone numbers aren't about to be released to telemarketers and it is already illegal for most telemarketers to call mobile phones, the Federal Trade Commission said Friday.
It's against the law for telemarketers to use automated dialing to reach cell phones, pagers or any other service in which the recipient has to pay for the call. Automated dialing is used by most telemarketers.
The e-mail rumor has circulated before, but Mitchell Katz, a spokesman for the FTC, said the agency has experienced a recent surge in calls and inquiries about it.
"This is an urban legend that will not die," Katz said, requesting that recipients stop forwarding it to others.
It's not clear who or what is driving the e-mails, Katz said. They usually include the correct number for the Do Not Call registry and don't appear to have any monetary angle.
The Federal Communications Commission said in a statement on its Web site earlier this year that the rumors may stem from discussions by leading telecommunications companies — including AT&T Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp. — about creating a wireless 411 information directory.
But that idea hasn't yet been implemented, the FCC said, and would require consumers to choose to be included in the directory. In addition, the directory wouldn't be released to telemarketers and wouldn't change the fact that automated telemarketing calls to cell phones are illegal, the Federal Trade Commission said.
Consumers can add their cell phone numbers to the Do Not Call list, the FTC said, though it isn't necessary.
Telemarketers are prohibited from calling phone numbers on the registry, though there are exceptions for charitable, political or survey calls. Companies face fines of up to $11,000 for each violation.
It is true that phone numbers registered when the list began in June 2003 will soon expire. The FTC purges numbers after five years, though legislation is pending in Congress to make the numbers permanent.
People can check online when their registration will expire, or register new numbers, at www.donotcall.gov. New numbers can also be added by calling 1-888-382-1222.