I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
It's an astonishing thing that those intrusive telemarketing calls never stop coming. Somebody must be buying. How can we stop them?
Imagine: The kids are at a sleep-over with Grandma. There’s a crackling log fire in the hearth. The lights are dimmed and there’s romantic music on the stereo. You and your beloved have killed a pleasant bottle of wine. And, one thing is about to lead to another . . . then the phone rings.
Your little island of bliss has been invaded by a telemarketer. Michael (better known to his friends as Jagdeep) has an unbelievably good deal for you on lawn care. Insect and weed control was not what was on your mind, and what was on your mind is now gone. “What movie do you want to watch, honey?”
The First Telemarketers
Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone in 1876 and probably within weeks someone was working on a way to use the instrument as a sales tool.
In the 1920s, bucket shops were staffed by fast-talking salesmen who were peddling penny stocks to the gullible over the phone: “Hey. You can’t lose on this one. Mr. Rockefeller himself just bought a million shares.”
The Telemarketing Agency in the U.K. tells us that in the 1950s, “housewives [began] making calls to find potential cookie buyers.” By the mid-1960s, the corporate world had elbowed the cookie ladies into the background and started randomly calling people in their homes with offers of double glazing, driveway paving, duct cleaning, and what have you.
Imagine: The linguine is cooked perfectly al dente, the shrimp are juicy and tender after simmering in white wine and garlic, and a little Parmigiano-Reggiano and some chopped parsley has been sprinkled on top. You’ve toasted your guests with a nicely chilled glass of Chablis. Then, the phone rings. It’s Jagdeep again in Bangalore, although this time he claims to be Richard, who wants to tell you about a great deal on vacations.
How to Stop Telemarketers
You can help create a world without telemarketing.
Don't Have a Phone
There’s one way to actually stop telemarketers from ruining the suspenseful climax of the movie you’re watching. It’s sure-fire, works every time, and never fails: Don’t have a telephone. But except for a few eccentric hermits, that’s probably not an option.
Here’s another way to stop them: Don’t buy. The turn-down rate is 96 percent. You might think such a terrible batting average would discourage the horrible blisters and they’d go into some other line of work. But no. They figure if they get a hit four times out of a hundred, they’ll get 40 out of a thousand, 400 out of ten thousand, and so on. That’s why they make millions of calls a day.
If nobody bought anything from telemarketers, they would stop annoying us. So, if you are part of the four percent, you are part of the problem; you have contributed to a social ill that plagues the rest of us. You should be ashamed.
How Telemarketers Operate
Most telemarketing calls are auto-dialled by a computer. The machines dial several numbers at a time, and when a phone is picked up the connection is bounced to an operator such as Jagdeep/Jason in his cubicle. That’s why there’s that two-second pause before Jagdeep picks up.
Sometimes you get the ghost of Jagdeep and a line with no one at the other end. That means that he is busy aggravating someone else and so is Kumar (Nicholas) and Rana (Jennifer). There’s nobody available to pester you but their call is important to them.
So, the line then cuts out and your number goes back into the rotation for another try later. The telemarketer’s time is far more valuable than yours.
Getting Around Telemarketer Schemes
Computer databases are pure gold to telemarketers; they spend a lot of time and money creating these databases and share them with one another. So, rule number one is stay off those databases. You do this first by NEVER, ever, ever buying anything from a telemarketer. Making a purchase over the phone will put you on a “suckers list”—sorry, “valued customer list”—and turn you into a high-priority target.
- Never give your phone number to retailers; they don’t need it if you’re buying a pair of socks rather than an assault rifle.
- The folks who assemble databases often harvest phone numbers and addresses from personal cheques, so blot out this information when paying by cheque.
- Warrantee registration cards are pretty close to useless except as a way for database aggregators to gather details; so don’t fill them out.
- When registering with such things as job banks on the Internet be sure to check the privacy setting.
- Don’t hang up immediately. This will register with the telemarketer as “no answer” so the blighters will put you back into the calling pool until they do get an answer.
- Don’t explain why you don’t want your driveway resealed. The art of telemarketing is the art of answering objections. A polite “No thank you” and a quick hang up is all that’s needed, although you are motivated to go full-on potty mouth. Don’t blame Jagdeep; he’s only trying to feed his family.
There are companies that can help you purge your online profile so scrapers have less access to your contact details.
Some Devices Can Block Telemarketers
Imagine: It’s late in the game. Your team needs to score to make the play-offs. You’re on the edge of your seat waiting for the play that will make you happy and, well, you’ve guessed it—bloody Jagdeep is on the line yakking about painting your house.
Telemarketers are nothing if not inventive. Having created the problem of profoundly annoying everybody with their irritating phone calls, some are now telemarketing gizmos they say will block their own calls.
This is sort of reminiscent of muscular gents in dark glasses telling the owner of a restaurant, “Nice place you’ve got here. Be a shame if something was to happen to it.”
Some of their gadgets even work. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s consumer awareness program Marketplace tested some widgets.
- Telezapper is described in a Staples sales pitch: It “emits a quiet, brief tone that tricks the auto dialer into believing your number is no longer in service. In addition to not being transferred to a salesperson, your phone number will be deleted from the computer’s database.” It costs about $50 and is simply plugged into your land line.
- EZ Hang-up requires a bit more effort on the part of the user. This $40 item hooks up to your phone line. When a call comes in that you don’t want to answer you press a button and the telemarketer hears a pre-recorded message—something like, “I’m sorry. This number does not accept this type of call. Please regard this as your notification to remove this number from your list. Thank you.” (Although why the “I’m sorry” is necessary is a bit of a mystery.)
Tactics That Don’t Work
Urban mythology is filled with useless ideas to deter telemarketers. There are several tactics that are said to stop telemarketers hauling you out of the bathtub just as you’ve settled down with a good book.
- Pressing the pound sign (#—octothorp to give it its correct name) several times doesn’t work.
- Laying the phone down and walking away doesn’t work.
- Hurling abuse and obscenities at the caller doesn’t work, although it may make you feel better. The caller will likely go all passive/aggressive on you and put you back in the database just to further infuriate you.
- Blasting an air horn down the line doesn’t work and may damage the hearing of the poor sap at the other end that is making minimum wage just to get cussed at.
Just don't say yes. If everybody said no every time, they would stop.
- According to the BBC, “New research shows that, for luxury brands, the ruder the sales staff, the higher the sales.”
- The group Private Citizen is set up to stop what it describes as “junk calls and junk mail.” It says telemarketers in the U.S. make 148 million phone calls a day.
- The National Fraud Information Center says that telemarketing swindles cost Americans almost $40 billion a year.
- “The History of Telemarketing.” The Telemarketing Website, undated.
- “Defeating the Telemarketing Machine.” CBC Marketplace, January 9, 2002.
- “On the Fly: Stop Calling Me.” Ann Brenoff, Huffington Post, September 12, 2013.
- “How to Turn Away Telemarketers.” Mark Toft, Staples, undated.
- “I’m a Telemarketer. Here’s How to Get Rid of Me.” Erica Elson, Lifehacker, March 11, 2014.
- National Fraud Information Center.
© 2017 Rupert Taylor