It a source of frustration and irritation for many South Africans: an annoying marketing phone call from a “private number” trying to sell you an upgraded cell phone plan or insurance package. And even after declining the offer politely, a persistent agent forces you to hang up, leaving you to wonder how on earth they got your number in the first place.

Well, this is the world of telemarketing, where companies make it their business to compile databases containing the personal information of hundreds and thousands of people. This information is then shared with other companies that, in turn, make cold calls to potential new customers. According to Swedish app Truecaller (more on this later), South Africa ranks fifth in the world as far as spam calls are concerned, and the average South African receives about 15 unsolicited calls a month.

Read the Fine Print when Signing Forms.

There are various ways in which your personal information is captured and, ultimately, distributed. For example, consumers who shop online often inadvertently give the company’s marketing team permission to contact them about other products and offers. Another prominent method used to compile databases is loyalty cards or other similar schemes- like free Wi-Fi or social media competitions that require customers to sign up or opt-in. Additionally, many insurance companies team up with other businesses and client information is shared between the two parties.

It is essential to read the fine print and be cautious when providing your contact information as there are sections that allow you to opt out of receiving marketing notifications.

Know Your Legal Rights.

On the legal side, the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) makes it illegal for companies to direct unsolicited marketing messages to consumers who have “opted out”. Direct marketing is seen as:

• A form of either personal or electronic communication;
• To promote any goods or services, or;
• Requesting a consumer to donate something.

The CPA is strict about the specific time of day consumers may be contacted for purposes of direct marketing. As it stands, direct marketers cannot reach consumers at home on Sundays and public holidays. Or on Saturdays before 9 am and after 1 pm, and on weekdays between 8 pm and 8 am the following morning.

The Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI) also prohibits unsolicited direct marketing. It specifies that “the processing of personal information for direct marketing using SMS or e-mail is prohibited unless consent is given”.

Opt-out from direct marketing through the National Opt-Out Register

If the calls are coming from a telemarketing company, registering on the national opt-out database can enable you to opt out of all direct marketing communication. The National Opt-Out Register is run by the Direct Marketing Association of South Africa (DMASA). The register documents your contact information and ensures that it’s not available to any marketing-related companies.

Do note: the register does require some personal details, i.e. your ID number, as well. Not to mention, it is only useful if the companies you are trying to block are registered with the DMASA.

If you are still contacted after registering, you can lay a complaint with the National Consumer Commission on 012 428 7000 or

Download Truecaller on your Smartphone

If you have a smartphone, you can also block spam calls by downloading and using an app like Truecaller. In a nutshell, the app is a global telephone directory that allows its users to have caller ID service despite not having the caller’s telephone number in their phone’s address book. It’s most popular feature is the call blocking one. This service allows a user to block calls from specific telephone numbers they don’t want to receive or ones that have been labelled as spam by other users of the service.

If all of the above fails, stand up for your rights and contact the SAPS

Essentially, you could open a harassment case and get the SAPS involved. The police will take a statement, jot down your details and start an investigation. Thanks to the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act (RICA), the police have access to every cell phone user’s details and can use this information to track down the perpetrator. Once they do this, they will contact you and ask how you wish to proceed.

Need legal advice or assistance with harassing phone calls?

LAW FOR ALL provides expert legal advice to all Policyholders, so if you want a caring friend in the law on your side, feel free to get in touch.