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Stop Those Telemarketing Calls!

Update: The Federal Trade Commission has implemented a national Do Not Call List. It limits telemarketers significantly, starting October 1, 2003. Read the FTC's FAQ and add your number to the list. I found it more private and convenient to use the toll free number, 888-382-1222, it only took about 45 seconds!

Here are three absolutely foolproof, money back guaranteed methods of stopping ALL unsolicited telemarketing calls!
1. Call your local phone company and cancel your service.
2. Take a pair of wire cutters and...
3. Leave your phone "off the hook" all the time.
Short of these admittedly drastic measures, telemarketing calls are a fact of life unless you're prepared to spend big bucks. What follows are some effective and inexpensive suggestions to dramatically reduce the number of unwanted calls you receive.

I admit to being a cheapskate. I pay about $25 per month to have a telephone in my home, basic service, no call forwarding, voice messaging, caller ID or other frills, in the proud cheapskate tradition. It irritates me no end to have a telemarketer call me "on my dime" so to speak, interrupt dinner or get me out from under the car covered in grease or pull me out of the bathroom, to try to sell me something I don't want. We all know the story.

A few years ago the volume of calls I received was becoming extreme, half a dozen or more daily, nearly two hundred each month!
I tried responding in all the usual ways, violently hanging up the phone, interrupting the caller and telling them I wasn't interested (sometimes politely, usually rudely), asking the caller to "Hang on a second!" and setting the phone down without hanging up and quietly walking away, or occasionally playing word games with the caller and wasting his time too. Although these methods usually soothed my irritation a bit, none of them reduced the number of calls.

Being a cheapskate precluded my acquiring a caller ID box or any other device to screen calls. With caller ID I'd still have to go check the box to decide whether I want to take the call I reasoned, and I'm spending MY money for something I shouldn't have to pay for in the first place! Don't want to get into a technology race with telemarketers at my own expense. An unlisted number is an expensive option and according to wealthy friends, it offers some reduction but does not eliminate unwanted calls.

So I decided to put my new Internet connection to good use and I found an article about telemarketing rules and how to reduce unwanted calls. Being inherently skeptical, I skimmed the article and made a note of two (cheapskate endorsed) suggestions. The first was very simple and, over time, proved so effective, that the second is still an option I haven't explored. I now receive less than a dozen unwanted calls per month, a volume I can live with.

What is this magic formula you ask? Just tell them not to call you any more. You're kidding, right? Does that work? You bet it works! But you must tell them in the correct way, in words they can understand so to speak... A typical call goes something like this.

"Hello Mr. Head-of-House. My name is Oliver Obnoxious and I'm with Have I Got A Deal For You, Inc. How are you today?"
or
"Good Afternoon Mrs. Head-of-House. This is Patricia Peddler with Make A Million Investments. We've got a program that blah, blah, blah and we're offering a free blah, blah, blah and all you need to do to get your free blah, blah, blah is blah, blah, blah..." and on and on until you finally interrupt them. I suspect this type never finishes.

WAIT until after the caller has identified himself and the company he represents. If he doesn't get an opportunity to present this much information, he (or another caller from that company) WILL call you again very soon. NOW dump the magic potion on 'em! Simply say, "Please add my name to your do not call list." By federal law a telemarketing company must maintain and use a do not call list. They must also add you to their list at your request. They can be penalized substantially for each subsequent call to you after your request and they know it. (There is at least one web page dedicated to recovering these penalties by "militant" anti-telemarketing folks.) The reason you must wait for them to identify the company they represent is simply so you know which company to go after for these damages. As the volume of calls I receive has declined, my tolerance for these calls has increased, I actually look forward to using the magic potion now 'cause it works! My standard response to telemarketers is, "It was nice talking to you. Please add me to your do not call list. Thanks!" and then, gently hang up the phone. I'm both polite and pleasant and this seems to help too. The people making those calls get a lot of abuse and responding politely is bound to make it easier for them to "remember" to push the right button to move my number to the desired list.

Push the right button? Most telemarketing call centers use computerized auto dialers. A call often goes something like this:

Ring, Ring, "Hello?"
Long pause, perhaps few a clicks on the line.
"Hello Mrs. (pause) Victim, this is Cindy with Refi Specialists. Our records show that you own your home there on (pause) Anystreet. Is that correct?"

The first pause and the clicks are the time it takes for the auto dialer to route your call to an available telemarketer. The next few pauses are the time it takes for the caller to find the appropriate names on their computer screen to plug into the blanks of their sales script. The good ones sure SEEM friendly and well informed, don't they?

Your friendly telemarketer will punch a button or two on their console to record your response to their call. If you hang up before they identify themselves, they will simply schedule you for another call. If you respond with "Not Interested" you won't be called about this "once in a lifetime opportunity" again until next week (maybe we'll get MR. Victim on the next call and he'll be more receptive) but you'll be called about other promotions this telemarketing company is contracted to do. (Remember, most of these companies are just hired advertisers.) If you respond with interest, they will move into sales mode or schedule you for contact by a sales person. If they get no answer, the auto dialer simply schedules you to be called at a different time of day for the next call, until they eventually reach you. The good news is that if you ask to be added to the do not call list, they will do that too.

Do you get a lot of those damn hang up calls? You know the ones, you towel your hands dry, run to the phone, grab it on the fourth ring, breathlessly croak hello, and there's no one on the other end? Thank telemarketers for most of these too. The auto dialers may dial three, four, or more numbers at a time (using ISDN phone lines, gotta keep these people BUSY, we're paying them big bucks!). The dead phone line means somebody else answered their ringing phone before you got to yours and there is presently no telemarketer available to annoy you. Don't despair, the computer will schedule you for another call. Nice folks, huh? Using either of the methods this web page suggests will reduce these calls too!

"But Cheapskate," you say, "I live with a house full of people, I can't even get my kids to take out the trash, much less tell them how to answer the phone!" This brings us to the second method for reducing unwanted telemarketing calls which is fully cheapskate approved but, unfortunately, untested by the old cheapy. However, while researching this report I found numerous experts that endorse this method. Simply write a letter to the Direct Marketing Association requesting that you be excluded from telemarketing promotions. Telemarketing companies that are members of the association (most of the big national companies are members) will acquire your information as lists propagate around the country and you can expect a significant reduction in unsolicited calls over a three to six month period. While you're writing, you may want to include a letter regarding junk mail or spam as well. Here are the addresses and the information required.

Telemarketing:
Send your name, home address, and home phone number to:
DMA Telephone Preference Service
P.O. Box 9014
Farmingdale NY 11735-9014

Junk mail:
Send your name and home address to:
DMA Mail Preference Service
PO Box 9008
Farmingdale NY 11735-9008

Junk e-mail (spam):
You can list your e-mail address with the DMA to help reduce spam from members of their organization at http://www.dmaconsumers.org/optoutform_emps.shtml.

No matter which method you choose, it will take time for your requests to "percolate" through the system. There are thousands of telemarketing call centers around the country buying, selling, swapping and renting lists. Also, you'll get a few calls as non-telemarketing companies buy lists to do their own phone promotions, from unscrupulous telemarketers who ignore do not call lists, from charities, and from plain old scammers. Be patient and persistent! Allow three months to see a noticeable reduction in calls and six months for a dramatic reduction.

Also, the big three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experion, and Trans Union) are a major source for generating both telemarketing and junk mail lists. They offer one toll free number to opt out of all lists generated by all three at 888-567-8688 and this will help reduce both telemarketing calls and junk mail substantially.

More information can be found at AntiTelemarketers.com. JunkBusters offers free help and advice to reduce unwanted solicitations and Putting An End To Telephone Solicitations discusses techniques to discourage telemarketers. In addition, Qwest (formerly US West) and, I suspect, other "Baby Bells" are offering an optional "No Solicitations" feature that detects and blocks calls from telemarketers. At $6.95 per month, it's untested by the old cheapskate, but highly recommended by one of this web site's regular visitors.

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