Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Do-not-call violators copping an attitude

One of the joys of independent adulthood is getting your own phone and phone number. As a teenager, I used the family phone, but I remember in the early 1980s getting my first apartment (actually the basement of someone’s house in Plainview, N.Y.) and having my own phone number.

One of the consequences of adulthood and your own phone number is that, eventually, you will be on the receiving end of telemarketing. People love to howl about junk mail, but dealing with unwanted solicitations in the mail is as simple as throwing them out and forgetting about them. And I get a lot of junk mail that isn’t junk; catalogs, for example, selling items I might be interested in buying.

As an example, Orion Telescope has been shipping me its catalog recently. I may be doing some business with them soon and can do that through the website, but having its paper catalog to enjoy on the loo and dream of my next big telescope makes me sad that eventually such catalogs will go away. When you’re an amateur astronomer, the Orion catalog is like being a kid again and seeing the old Sears Wishbook that came out as Christmas approached.

Heck, if Orion telemarketed me I might not hang up or be all that upset.

But there are those telemarketers who used to be so persistent and annoying that eventually action had to be taken. People have been complaining about telemarketing almost since telephones became an appliance in most homes and offices. Indeed, while reading a 1920s issue of the New Yorker magazine, there was a note that part of the magazine’s startup was getting a phone number, and soon after that the telephone advertising began.

Before the do-not-call lists started, you were basically naked to the telemarketers. They could – and did – call you repeatedly. You could beg to be put on their do-not-call lists, but there was little assurance that it would be obeyed. I can remember that for a time every morning at 8:47 a.m. I would get a call from the same person for long-distance service. I finally told the person she needed to stop calling me or else.

Another time, I got “slammed.” That means my long-distance service was changed without permission. I had been getting calls from a call center for a prominent, well-known long-distance company, and had been hanging up on the caller. So one day, a week after my latest hang-up, I got a letter in the mail thanking me for signing up with them.

As it turned out, a lot of people had gotten signed up against their will. Eventually, I got the paperwork and it turned out the workers in the call center were putting in bogus Social Security numbers and signing the names of people – including me – to change our service.

My least favorite and most frustrating occasion happened with the Audio Book Club. I began getting calls every Saturday morning just after I moved to Sarasota in October 2004. They always woke me up since I worked Friday nights and I was in a bad mood most times at having my sleep interrupted. My “no” followed by a hang-up escalated to threats to contact the Pennsylvania attorney general for abuse of my phone line.

What was interesting was that I made this remark and demanded to speak to her boss, and then I heard the telemarketer tell the boss, “He’s going to contact the attorney general.”

Well, I gave the boss an earful and hung up, feeling better that I had laid it all out that the calls had to stop. About a week later, I went to the mailbox center in the development, and found a key to a package locker in my mailbox. I opened the locker and found a package from … the Audio Book Club.

I guess out of spite, they signed me up for a whole lot of books on cassette tape, shipped them and now wanted payment. Of course, I had no intention of paying for the tapes but it was an inconvenience to take it back to the post office for return to the book club. I wrote letters to the CEO of the company and the Pennsylvania attorney general detailing what had happened.

I got a letter back from the attorney general but, most importantly, the calls stopped.

The advent of the do-not-call list was a triumph for people. Resistance to the calls had been mostly futile, with telemarketers insisting that people liked the calls. Even so, when the list was made mandatory, there were exceptions that did not eliminate all the calls, just most of them.

And then there were still those who decided to “go rogue” and violate do-not-call.

While the feds had their list, individual states also established do-not-call lists, though you had to pay $5 or $10 a year to get on it, and there were exceptions for charities, newspapers and companies you’d done business with before. Florida still has its list, and one of the most interesting raw police reports I ever read was one by a sheriff’s deputy describing a visit to a local heating/air conditioning company.

The proprietor had a roomful of people making telemarketing calls, and I guess they were following up on complaints about do-not-call violations. In the process, it was found that two of the telemarketers didn’t have licenses to telemarket. The owner was arrested and charged with hiring unlicensed telemarketers, a third-degree felony.

Other states had reported successes in fining telemarketers that violated their do-not-call lists, though usually the telemarketers just stopped calling in that state or changed their name and phone number, or “spoofed” a number to cheat the Caller ID many people have.

The free federal list has proven to be the most popular thing the federal government has ever done. Enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, it’s easy to register for and easy to file a complaint. There are exceptions, but every month or so the FTC reports a new do-not-call violator being run to ground and forced to pay a fine.

Still, the calls come in. Lately, local small businesses have been buying lists of phone numbers from sales-leads companies and calling, claiming that the company that sold them the list promised that the numbers were not on the do-not-call list.

Of course, the callers were not to keen to be clued in to the reality, and I have had to have some pointed conversations with people while looking up their phone number for the complaint I was going to file. One woman calling for a lawn care company apologized and asked that I not file a complaint, but I replied that the offense had been committed and needed to be reported.

I suppose the final message in all this is this: It’s our telephone, and if we don’t want to be subjected to intrusive and annoying sales pitches, that’s our right. End of story.


June 30, 2013 - Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Being on the DNC list does not really help stop the calls. I’m on that list for 2 years now but I still get the calls. So I reported the violators to in an attempt to raise my concern to the proper authorities. Where else to do I need to go to get them penalized?

    Comment by Ruth Simmons | July 7, 2013 | Reply

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