Been bugged by telemarkers during dinner? Of course you have.
Getting really annoyed by it? Of course you are!
If you live in the United States, it really is possible to put a stop to this wholesale invasion of your privacy. I know, because I've done it. And it is remarkably easy!
It requires a little self-discipline on the part of everyone in your family, but it will pay big dividends, and surprisingly quickly. In fact, it can pay you big money!
Telemarketers used to bug me three or four times a night, to the point where it was almost not worth having a phone. Now, they call me maybe once a month or two. I still resent the calls, but at least I can tolerate the frequency.
The Telephone Consumers Protection Act of 1991 is your best friend in the fight to put an end to this nuisance. It places certain burdens on the telemarketer, which, if you take advantage of, will put a halt to the nuisance as quickly as a month or two. Unfortunately, it only protects residential telephone customers. Small business owners are out of luck, even if you work at home! You have no protection other than fraud and nuisance laws, and you'll have to sue in a regular court to get even that. Yes, I know this sucks, but your only hope is to write your congressman. And given who currently controls congress, I'm not too sanguine about your prospects for relief.
Unsolicited computer generated telemarketing calls with prerecorded messages to residences are currently legal, but with limitations. Unfortunately, the law is commonly abused. You can tell if the call you get is computer generated because it will have a few seconds of silence or a recorded message before you hear a live person. Automatically dialed calls are legal if the autodialer connects a live person within two seconds or gives a recording stating the nature and purpose of the call, but this is usually not done - computers check to see if they've dialed a message recorder, fax or computer line, etc., before connecting a live person. That's not legal. If you get a computer generated call at home that is trying to sell you something, try to identify the company placing the call. If you can't, note carefully the time of the call. Report the call to the nuisance call bureau of your local phone company. If your directory does not give you that number, dial "0" and the operator can. Such calls are a violation of the Telephone Consumers Protection Act of 1991, a federal law, and your phone company is required to investigate and report such calls to the authorities. If the phone company fails to do so, report them to the state attorney general's office and the state public utilities commission. Eventually, they'll get the message that they'd be better off complying with the law. Besides, it was the greed of the telephone companies that led to the creation of the telemarketing industry; it's only right that they should bear some of the pain their greed has created.
About telemarketing fraud: Any company which has so little regard for your privacy and convenience that they will try to evade your knowing who they are is probably trying to rip you off anyway, and anyone who buys something from such a company ought to have his head examined. Fraud is so prevalent in the telemarketing industry that you're better off presuming that the call is fraudulent and dealing with it as you would a call you know to be fraudulent.
It used to be that many of these calls were coming from Canada. Why Canada? Because telemarketing calls placed from Canada were outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. at one time, and were therefore not subject to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. No more. As a result of abuse and complaints by the Canadian authorities, the law has been changed, and now any call from outside the U.S. on behalf of a U.S. company, is subject to the rules of the TCPA, the same as if it were placed domestically.
How The Telemarketer Gets Your Number
Your number is always given to 800/888/877 numbers you call from your home phone. That's regardless of whether or not your number is unlisted, you have caller ID blocking, manually try blocking the caller ID or whatever. It ALWAYS goes to the caller, because they're paying for the call and they have the legal right to know the source of the call they're paying for. So if you call an 800 number, you can figure you've divulged your number to the company you've just called. I'd suggest you call from a cell phone or a pay phone, or call their regular (toll) number if you don't want them to sell your phone number to telemarketers.
Don't ever call any of the "infomercial" 800 numbers you see on TV. They're notorious for selling to telemarketers. If you must do business with them and must give them a phone number, call them from a pay phone, but never from your home, and never give them your home phone number. Give them an old number instead. Never give them your work number - it is a good way to get yourself fired.
Your phone company may be selling your unlisted number to telemarketers! Many phone companies (Qwest is a particularly bad offender) sell lists of phone numbers to telemarketers whether or not they are unlisted or unpublished! Call your phone company's business office and ask them if they do this. At least one state, Arizona, requires its phone companies to give you the option of not allowing your unlisted/unpublished number to be given out to anyone except to law enforcement and emergency services. You should opt for this! In some states, this option requires a written request be submitted to the telephone company. Take the trouble to do it.
Your credit card companies can and often are selling your credit card information, including your phone number, to telemarketers! Did you know that this is a common practice? It's perfectly legal, and many credit card companies do it in exchange for a commission on sales to your credit card. Some of these telemarketers have been fraudulently billing the card numbers they get, and hoping that the owners don't notice. Most credit card companies will honor your request to be put on a do-not-sell list; if you're on it, they won't sell your phone number. Call their customer service number and ask to be put on the do not sell list.
Check your credit card statements carefully! If you notice a billing for something you haven't bought, call the credit card company and cancel that card! Losing accounts is the only way that the credit card companies will quit this abhorrent practice. Do you really want to do business with a credit card company that will sell your card information to a fraud artist? Also, contest the charges with the credit card company itself, not the 800 number for the creditor that the statement lists. Drive up the costs of the credit card company by contesting the charges with card company first, and this will serve to discourage this outrageous, obnoxious practice.
Credit bureaus are a source of phone numbers. If you are careful to never give your number to a business or to a government agency, they probably won't get it, but there's no guarantee. If you request a copy of your own credit report, don't give the number to the agency when you're asking for it; give an old number or cell phone number instead.
And write your congressman! There have been bills sponsored in congress to outlaw this practice, but the American Banking Association is opposing them, and given the fact that it is money that's in control of congress, you can imagine how far those bills will get without a lot of heat from constituents.
It's far from perfect, but it will help. Here's what one correspondent wrote to me about his experience with it:
"We have had ACR for about 2 months, and are pretty happy with it. Our number of unwanted calls has dropped from about 10 per day to 1 or 2. We also have Caller ID and let the answering machine pick up any calls without caller id info.
"However, we have had some problems with ACR:
"1. Many people don't understand the instructions that Pac Bell gives when someone makes a blocked call. A friend of mine with ACR has had the same problem.
"2. A guy at the car dealer where I took my car for service recently swears that their phone system doesn't allow him to dial *82 to get through.
"3. If you use ATT's USA Direct to call my phone from overseas, you can't get through because they block the calling number [which makes some sense, since that is not really the number that is making the domestic call], and I haven't been able to find a way around this."
"4. Pac Bell suggests that you use a pay phone to call someone with ACR if you don't want to expose your phone number. I assumed that meant that pay phone don't block, but that is not always true - I have found some that do.
"5. If you want to call a phone with ACR using a calling card
that requires you to call an 800 number, it is not clear that you can successfully
make the call since the long distance provider may dial the destination
number from a blocked number (same problem as USA Direct)."
Where to find one of these boxes? Unfortunately, since they're no longer being sold by Radio Shack, you'll have to do some hunting around to find one. Check garage sales and all the local Radio Shack stores to see if they may still have one in their inventory.
One way to filter calls is to use a telephone answering machine to answer the phone with a special recording. If the answering machine message is preceeded by "invalid number" tones, computerized calling machines will falsely sense an invalid number and disconnect you automatically. Many even automatically add your number to their Do Not Call list! You can download a recording of the "invalid number" tones by right-clicking here. From the menu that pops up, you can select "save link as" or "save target as" and save the tone recording to your hard disk. Then, when you're ready to make your telephone answering machine recording, call up WinAmp or whatever software you use for playing MP3 files, find the file, put it in a new play list with only that file, and have the mouse cursor on the play button. When ready, start your answering machine recording, hit Play on WinAmp, and at the conclusion of the tones, give your message, such as "You have reached the _____ residence. Please stay on the line and we'll pick up. If we're not home, you can record your message at the beep." Once you've recorded the tones, play back the recording and make sure that the tones are about as loud as your voice. If they're not loud enough, you'll need to re-record.
There are plenty of computer modems out there that are caller-ID compatible, but until recently, no one seemed to have written a computer program for them that was designed to deal specifically with telemarketing. Well, I've finally found a computer program that appears to take advantage of caller ID compatible modems out there to properly filter them. It's called the "Call Terminator" and runs on most PC's. I've not tried it, so I'm not able to endorse it, but from the web site it sure looks good. There is a 30-day trial download available and after that, it only costs $29.95 to register it, so you're not risking much. I'd welcome any reports about how effective it is.
If telemarketers start getting bold enough to start using caller ID to get around such boxes, get Caller ID service and start recording the numbers. You can do a reverse-number lookup to find out who they are and if the information they are giving you is valid. It is my understanding that faking Caller ID information is illegal under Federal law. I'm looking into this, but haven't found the actual legal reference. If you catch a telemarketer doing so, I would suggest you might try suing under the TCPA, but I don't know if this will actually work.
As of this writing (1/29/02), these states have Do Not Call lists, for which you can register at these phone numbers or web sites. Many other states are considering creating lists. If your state is not on the list, write to your state senator, representative or governor and urge them to get the ball rolling on starting a list. If you find out that your state does have a DNC list that is not listed here, please send me the info so I can add it.
Note that lots of industry groups have succeeded in getting exemptions through most Republican-controlled state legislatures, so even though you may be on a state DNC list, you will still get telemarketing calls. More common exemptions are charities (including, of course, political parties), automobile dealers, funeral homes, newspapers and, of course, telecommunications providers, meaning long distance companies. Yes, Virginia, the state DNC lists really were too good to last. But they'll stop enough calls that they're probably worth being on anyway.
Idaho, 208-334-2424, 800-432-3545
New York, 1-866-622-5569
The second rule is never, ever, ever give a telemarketer any information about you or your personal details, regardless of how persistent they may be or for whatever reason they say they are asking for it. You would be surprised at the sort of information they will sometimes ask for. Any information you give them will make you more vulnerable to fraud, and some information can be downright problematic - if you give them your work number, it is a sure way to get yourself fired! Give them your bank account number or social security number, and it is almost a sure bet you will become the victim of identity theft! Never trust a telemarketer at any time for any reason - do you know the person personally? Why would you trust a caller any more than you would trust any stranger you run into on the street?
Get your phone number changed to an unlisted number even if it's already unlisted, and then guard it's unlisted status zealously. When you get your phone number changed, be sure to ask the phone company what their policy is on giving out or selling your number. If they sell it, ask to be placed on the do-not-sell list.
You'd be surprised at who's trading in your current phone number, even if it's already unlisted! Did you know that some states will sell the phone number you give them on your drivers license application? Many do! Have you ever put your phone number on a check you're cashing? Businesses routinely record and sell numbers their customers put on checks. They don't really need it for getting in touch with you; they can find you in any number of ways if they need to get in touch with you regarding a bad check. So if they ask for it, it's because they want to sell it. Either refuse to give it to them, or give them your old number. But never, ever give them your real, new phone number. That includes your car mechanic, your plumber, your mortgage company, your insurance agent, your utilities, etc. All these are sources of traded phone number lists, with no regard whatever for the unlisted status of the number. And since they never ask you if your number is unlisted, don't plan on them respecting your desire for privacy. Yes, this might seem a bit drastic, and this will inconvenience you a bit, but you'll be amazed at how much more peaceful your dinnertime will be. If businesspeople complain about it, remind them that they themselves are the source of the problem. This includes credit card companies. Don't ever give them your current number, unless they insist. And if they do, tell them you want a written agreement not to sell or divulge the number to anyone before you'll give it to them. For credit cards that you've already given your number to, call their customer service number and ask then to place your number on the do-not-sell list.
Don't give businesses your number automatically when you are when calling them.
If you have "Caller ID Blocking" service where you live, you should subscribe to it. Certain businesses use Caller ID to automatically generate phone lists. You don't want to be on that list, because it will probably be traded. So if it is available, Caller ID Blocking will prevent your number from being added to the list without your knowledge. The exception is calls placed to 800/888/877 toll-free lines. These always have caller ID on them, even if you attempt to manually block caller ID or have caller ID blocking service. If you must call a toll-free number, do so from a pay phone. Again, this may be a bit inconvenient, but it's the only way to guard the unlisted status of your number.
If you need to make a call to a phone number that has Anonymous Call Rejection or a rejecting Caller ID box, just dial *82 and then the number. That call only will have Caller ID on it.
Record of Telemarketer Call
City, State, Zip:_______________________________
ACTUAL Full Name of caller:_____________________
Representing (company or product):______________
represented company's address:__________________
represented company's phone no:_________________
Did caller agree to add you to his do-not-call list? Yes___ No___
Did caller agree to send you a copy of his do-not-call list policy? Yes___ No___
By law, the telemarketer must provide you with all the above information. He must mail you the confirmation of his adding you to his do-not-call list if you ask for it. He must also provide a copy of his do-not-call list policy if you ask for it, too. It is important that you ask for this. The reason is that it is very costly (several dollars) for the telemarketer to comply. The cost of doing so is sufficiently great that it will ensure that the telemarketer will gladly add you to his do-not-call list to avoid incurring the costs of doing so again. He will also likely trade his do-not-call list with other telemarketers to get other phone numbers it would be too costly to call (it's not legal for them to do this, but many do it anyway). If even ten percent of victims would do this, telemarketing would be far too expensive to be worthwhile, and the telemarketing curse would quickly end.
When a telemarketer calls...
|If you want to be sure that your name is put on the Do Not Call list, you have to ask for a confirmation letter like this one. These letters, like all business mail, are expensive to generate and send, and failing to send them out can be even more expensive should you sue. If you ask for it, you are giving the telemarketer a powerful incentive to add you to his DNC list.|
Know how to fill out the form, and make sure every member of your family knows how, too. Ask for the name of the telemarketing company making the call, the business address of the telemarketer (must be a physical address, not a P.O. box), the phone number at which the telemarketer conducts business, the name of the individual placing the call, and record the time and date. Save the record! When you receive the policy and confirmation, attach it to the record of the call, along with the envelope you recieved it in. The postmark on the envelope is proof of when the telemarketer mailed it. If he calls you again within ten years, you've got proof that he violated the law. If he calls you within a year, the law he's violated can result in a $500 fine paid to you if you'll just follow up and sue.
If the telemarketer fails to send you the written do not call policy you asked for, you are entitled to sue in state court in most states. The telemarketer is liable for a $500 fine for each infraction, even if there are several infractions in a single call. If he calls you again, he is liable for a $500 fine for each call. The form you filled out during the call is your evidence. Don't hesitate to sue in small-claims court. You could make a lot of money at this! One fellow who wrote me claims he's making $14,000 a year by suing telemarketers! Talk about making money by doing good!
Who to sue: You should sue the company or organization on whose behalf the call is made.
Some of the worst telemarketing abusers are the long distance phone companies. For your convenience, here are the corporate headquarters info for some of the more common long distance telemarketers, and it's where you can direct the summons to be sent. Sending it to the corporate headquarters will ensure that it gets lost in the vast corporate bureacracy, and by the time it finds its way to the appropriate party, the court date will have long since come and gone, and you'll have won by default:
Post Office Box 11315
Kansas City, Missouri 64112
Where to sue: The best place to sue is in your local small claims court. It's easy, convenient, and most of all, inconvenient to the corporation you're suing. They're less likely to show up, since it isn't worth some corporate executive's time to defend the company against what to them is a trifling claim. Again, you're more likely to win by default. Unfortunately, the TCPA stipulates that the suit should be filed in the jurisdiction where the call originated, but most states will allow you to file locally anyway, and will honor the TCPA protections. Check with the court clerk of your local small claims court.
Enforcing a judgement: If you get a judgement against a long distance company, and the company doesn't pay, go back to the court and get a court order to sieze the company's property. You can then take the judgement to the local county sheriff, have him to go to the local telephone company and sieze the long distance company's assets if there are any at the local phone company's "central office" switch center (there usually is). When they find out their subscribers can't make calls because their switching equipment has been siezed, the long distance carrier will settle really quickly. Guaranteed. For other telemarketers, you'll have to be a bit creative about finding what assets they may have. Office equipment, especially computers, is a good bet, since it will put them out of business, or at least greatly inconvenience them. Anyway, it will get their attention, and likely cause them to settle.
On occasion, a particularly agressive telemarketer may try to get his hooks in you by calling back, time and again, and yet fail to identify a way to contact them other than by responding to the pitch.
Should this occur, in some areas you can get "call trace service" that enables you to dial *57 and get the phone number of the last caller. This costs typically $5 to be set up for the service and $5 each time it is used.
While this does cost money, it is cheap if it leads you to the
offending telemarketer who can then be sued for a hundred times the amount
it cost you to find out who he is.
John L. has written to me with the following information: "Radio Shack sells a telephone recording control, model 43-228A. It can be used with many of their portable cassette recorders, and can be set up to automatically begin recording when the reciever is off-hook. The telephone connection on the back of the control takes the phone line from your telephone. The other 2 connections have 2 small connectors on it. The bigger of the 2 goes to the Mic input ( I believe that is right ) and the other goes to the REM input. Make sure that they are firmly inserted. Place the switch on the top of the control to "RECORD". Then press both the record and play button on the recorder. That places the recorder in "standby".
"As soon as someone picks up the receiver, the tape recorder will start. It might be noted that it is best to get the recorder that runs on AC and not batteries as the batteries wear down too quickly. Use a good grade cassette tape, no longer than 90 minutes as the C-120's are hard on cassette motors. Also, on playback of the tape, you will notice that your voice will be much louder than the caller's voice. This is because the control just routes the audio and does not do any processing of the audio, or in other words, it does not try to equalize or make both audio sources the same level.
"You might have to train yourself to not say "UM" or UH-HUH as you might cut off some important piece of information that you need to have to nail some SOB telemarketer."
For legal reasons, YOU MUST let the person know that you are recording the conversation. If they refuse or ask you to stop recording, you MUST DO SO. John suggests you include the warning in your greeting, and I would suggest you make sure it is included on the tape for your own legal protection. Seems all they hear is 'hello,' so he takes the chance of putting in the "thanks for calling, this is John. All calls are recorded." John says that no one has disagreed yet....
This is a great way of gathering evidence against telemarketers for use in court, particularly where they are abusive or aggressively persistent.
If you try my system, tell me how you made out. Together, we can win
the war against telemarketing! I'd love to hear about your experience with
this plan. Email me with your experiences!.
Some help with spam...
Unfortunately, few of the spam filtering software programs out there really work. And replying to the "remove" as some spams suggest simply add to the problem; most spammers buy their email addresses on a CD-rom, and the "remove" gimmick is simply a way of filtering out the dead addresses on the CD-rom, so they can spam you more efficiently. Never respond to an email spammer, no matter how enticing the offer. Not only does it encourage them to spam you even more, but it confirms that the email address they used is a good one, and you'll end up on even more spammers' lists.
There are a number of things you can do about it.
...And a word to spammers and telemarketers who read this page
Even if you're bedridden and this is the only 'honest' work you think you can do, you're wrong. I've been recruited by bedridden headhunters, for example, and have seen web pages written by bedridden web authors, and often use software written by bedridden software engineers. There are lots of other jobs out there you can do from your bed, and besides I'd rather pay my share of your welfare check than be bugged by you. So get a life. Spend your time surfing the web on the taxpayers' nickel if you want, but for chrissakes, don't bug me for something I don't want and am absolutely not going to buy from you anyway.
And don't bother to write me to try to justify what you're doing. I'm not interested in hearing your sorry excuses. Believe me, I've heard 'em all, and I'm not impressed by any of them, especially the ones that claim you're an 'honest' telemarketer. You're not honest. If you were honest, why don't you give the people you're calling your organization's business phone number, where you can personally really be reached? You don't because you're trying to hide your identity, and that's simply not being honest with the people you're calling. So don't make a fool of yourself by claiming you are.
How To Get $500 From Telemarketers When They Won't Stop Calling You! by B.R. Gordon is a recap of much of the material here, but with a little additional help about suing telemarketers.
Junk Mail Solution : Stop Junk Mail and Telemarketing Calls : Three Easy Steps to Freeing Youself from Junk Mail and Telemarketing by Jackie Plusch is the best guide I've yet encountered to deal with both of these problems. Fleshes out many of the ideas I've talked about here.
How to Get Rid of a Telemarketer by Millard America is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at techniques for getting rid of telemarketers. It offers such advice as singing to them: "anything Ethyl Merman is great!" This book is a great gift for someone who's being harrassed by telemarketers.
Fleeced! : Telemarketing Rip-Offs and How to Avoid Them by Fred Schulte is a good book about how to deal with telemarketers. Of course the best advice is not to buy from them anyway, so they can't rip you off.
The Boiler Room and Other Telephone Sales Scams by Robert Joseph Stevenson is a rather shocking look at how telemarketers go about fleecing people. This book is often used by scam artists as a how-to guide. It's very interesting reading!
Telemarketing Guide to State Laws : Compilation of State Laws Affecting Telemarketing is a compilation of state-by-state laws governing the operation of telemarketers. I'm offering this for people who want to do a thorough job of reading up on their rights and can't afford a lawyer. This title is unavailable as of this writing; check the link to see if it's been reprinted.
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