In some very niche instances it can be an effective strategy, but in today's digital world there are often better, faster and more lucrative ways to engage your audience. However, if cold calling is calling you, there are some rules to be aware of. This doesn't just mean "best practices" but actual, legal rules that, if broken, can land you and your company in a heap of trouble.

If you are getting cold calls, trying to figure out who's bothering you via a reverse phone directory, or wondering if those calls are legal, it's time to brush up on the basics.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) governs the do's and don'ts of cold calling. This government agency stepped in when it was discovered that securities firms in particular were taking advantage of dialing up customers, sometimes using high pressure tactics or even being dishonest in order to bully people into investing. As such, the SEC came up with foundational rules that every cold caller needs to follow.

If you are going to cold call possible customers, remember:

1. There's a timeframe. Cold calls can only happen between the hours of 8am and 9pm seven days per week. However, this timeframe is only in effect is the person being called is not currently a client or customer or the customer has told the caller they can call at any time. Plus, if a person works between 9pm and 8am, they can receive cold calls at any time.

2. Identity must be established. In order to keep it legal, cold callers have to say who they are and why they are calling right away. Within the first two minutes of connecting, the callers must share their name, the name of the company they are representing, the purpose for their call--and their address or phone number if it is requested.

3. That do not call (DNC) list is serious. Every securities firm is required to maintain a DNC list, as is many other types of companies. There are also third party DNC lists you can sign up for (often for a small fee). If you request to be put on a DNC list, your wishes must be upheld. Should someone on a DNC list get a call, they should job down the caller, the business, and get the date and time in order to file a formal complaint. Complaints can be sent to the company, or if it is related to a securities firm to the securities regulator in your state or the SEC.

There is also a DNC list governed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can sign up online here, and the only way any company can get around this is if you give them written permission to call you. Should you need to file a complaint after you have registered with the FTC's DNC list, online complaints are welcome.

4. Money matters. Sometimes a cold call results in both parties agreeing to have money taken out of the customer's bank account. However, written approval is required first. It is wise of clients to never give their bank information via a phone call. A reputable securities company will not ask for this, and other companies should have other means of collecting money (such as an online ordering form).

5. Honesty is the required policy. Finally, know that the SEC requires all cold callers to be honest and truthful. There is a difference between good marketing and misleading marketing, including with cold calls.

Knowing the rules of cold calling, whether you are a company or a potential customer, can help make the transaction better for everyone. However, also know that rules can change, so it is a good idea to follow the SEC on social media or sign up for alerts so you're always in the know.