Stopping Telemarketers

Update (4/24/01): Here's a little trick I learned recently: many telemarketers use automated equipment to dial multiple numbers simultaneously. These automated machines pass on live calls to humans who then go into the pitch you didn't want to hear. Here's the full list of possibilities the automated machines react to:

  1. The phone is answered, sound is heard from the other end followed by a pause. This scenario is considered a live call, and is passed on to a human to start the pitch. Note that really short telephone answering messages fit this pattern, which is why you may get calls on your machine that go like this: "Hello, Mr. Hogan? ... Mr Hogan? ... Hello?"
  2. The phone is answered, continuous sound is heard from the other end. This scenario is considered an answering machine pickup. The number is marked to be called again, at a different time.
  3. The phone is not answered. The number is marked to be called again, at a different time.
  4. The telephone company plays the "I'm sorry, but the number you've attempted to reach has been disconnected" message. The number is marked to never be called again.

Note that the recorded message in scenario #4 starts with a series of upward rising three tones (doo dah dee). It's those tones that tell the automated equipment the number is disconnected, not the voice message that follows. So, find a number that's been disconnected, record the tones, and add them to the start of your answering machine's outgoing message! (Example: "DOO DAH DEE, this is Thom, I'm unavailable at the moment, so please leave me a message at the tone...BEEP.") Your friends will think you're a little wierd, but not after you explain why your answering machine plays those tones. (These tones are available on the Web at many sites: just do a search for SIT.WAV.)

Building Your Own Script

While you'll never be able to stop all telemarketers from disturbing you, it is possible to ensure that telemarketers who do will never call again.

Federal regulations require that telemarketers keep and maintain a Do Not Call List. This is a list of phone numbers that the company may not call again for ten years. Next time a telemarketer calls, make sure to tell them to put your phone number on that list. (In recent years, I've adopted the following response to the first thing a telemarketer says: "It is the policy of this household to withhold all future business from companies that solicit us via telephone." For most "legitimate" telemarketing efforts, this results in an immediate apology, a toll-free number to call if I have any questions, and no future calls from that organization, as this is usually interpreted in their script as a do not call response. For the rest, I just hang up after making that statement and hope they got the message.)

If you want to be removed from a master marketing list used by hundreds of companies, send a signed request asking to be removed from all telemarketing lists, along with your full name, street address, city, state, ZIP Code, and phone number (including area code) to:

Direct Marketing Association
PO Box 9014
Farmingdale, NY 11735-9014

You may wish to do more than just get your name on a list; perhaps you even want to take up the telemarketer's time and make them squirm a bit. You need to know a few things:

About the Script

Every question in the script is intended to help you take control of the conversation and find out what you need to know. If they ask you why you're asking a question, read the relevant law to them and repeat your question. When you're following the script, be sure to write down the answers you receive; you'll need this to take action against companies that don't follow the rules.

The Script

What you Say

 

The Law Is

Their Answer

What is the name of the company you are calling me for?

 

"A person or entity making a telephone solicitation must provide the called party with…the name of the person or entity on whose behalf the call is being made."

Is this a telephone solicitation?

 

A solicitation is a telephone call intended to "encourage the purchase or rental of, or investment in, property, goods, or services." Further, it can't be an unsolicited advertisement, either: "The term 'unsolicited advertisement' means any material advertising the commercial availability or quality of any property, goods, or services which is transmitted to any person without that person's prior express invitation or permission."

Could you please tell me your full name?

 

"A person or entity making a telephone solicitation must provide the called party with the name of the individual caller."

And your phone number?

 

"A person or entity making a telephone solicitation must provide the called party with… a telephone number or address at which the person or entity may be contacted."

And what is your company's mailing address?

 

"A person or entity making a telephone solicitation must provide the called party with… a telephone number or address at which the person or entity may be contacted."

Does the company you are calling for keep a list of numbers it's been asked not to call?

 

"No person or entity shall initiate any telephone solicitation to a residential subscriber unless such person or entity has instituted procedures for maintaining a list of persons who do not wish to receive telephone solicitations made by or on behalf of the person or entity."

I would like you to add me to that list.

 

Does the company you are calling for have a written policy concerning the list?

 

"Persons or entities making telephone solicitations must have a written policy, available upon demand, for maintaining a do-not-call list."

Could you mail me a copy of that written policy?

 

"Persons or entities making telephone solicitations must have a written policy, available upon demand, for maintaining a do-not-call list."

The Law

"A person who receives more than one telephone call within any 12 month period by or on behalf of the same company in violation of the regulations prescribed under this subsection may, if otherwise permitted by the laws or rules of court of a State bring in an appropriate court of that State:

A. an action based on a violation of the regulations prescribed under this subsection to enjoin such violation,

B. an action to recover for actual monetary loss from such a violation, or to receive up to $500 in damages for each such violation, whichever is greater, or

C. both such actions.

It shall be an affirmative defense in any action brought under this paragraph that the defendant has established and implemented, with due care, reasonable practices and procedures to effectively prevent telephone solicitations in violation of the regulations prescribed under this subsection. If the court finds that the defendant willingly or knowingly violated the regulations prescribed under this subsection, the court may, in its discretion, increase the amount of the award to an amount equal to not more than 3 times the amount available under subparagraph (B) of this paragraph."

But, if you want to sue, you'd need to ask these additional questions:

Are you calling for a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization?

Unfortunately, the law precludes nonprofit organizations from being sued.

"The term 'telephone call' in sec. 64.1200(a)(2) shall not include a call or message by, or on behalf of, a caller: which is a tax-exempt nonprofit organization."

 

Is this call based on a previously established business relationship?

Unfortunately, the law precludes suing an entity with which you have a pre-existing relationship.

"The term 'established business relationship' means a prior or existing relationship formed by a voluntary two-way communication between a person or entity and a residential subscriber with or without an exchange of consideration, on the basis of an inquiry, application, purchase or transaction by the residential subscriber regarding products or services offered by such person or entity, which relationship has not been previously terminated by either party."

 
       

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