Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Our chance to hang up gently on telemarketers

Goodbye, Tricia. Maybe you had my best interests at heart when you telephoned asking to consolidate my debts. I don't hate you, but I am cutting you off.

Aloha, Debbie. Thanks for the offer of a free trip to Hawaii, but I just don't feel comfortable accepting such a splendid gift from a stranger.

My long-distance provider is satisfactory, Mitchell. I am hanging up. No hard feelings.

Since we won't be talking much after Oct. 1, I'd just like to say I'm sorry if I sounded cranky sometimes. But you had an uncanny knack for dialing me up just when the dog was signaling that he needed to go out right now. Or when the pasta for dinner was about 30 seconds from al dente.

dont call list I tried, really I did, to remember that you were probably a nice person, just trying to make a living. Maybe a student working your way through school. Or a single mom. If you'll recall, I was never really rude.

And I never played games.

My friend Frank Shue, who is retired and therefore has far too much time on his hands, amused himself once at the expense of a caller trying to sell him a hearing aid. "What?" Frank screamed into the telephone receiver. "I can't hear a thing. God, I'd give anything, anything if someone could help me. I'd pay any amount of money."

Well, you get the idea.

Frank was an amateur. There were people out there with more elaborate defenses. On the Web, you can find dozens of sites, including one that plays audio clips of pranks played on marketers. EGBG, a company in Amsterdam, reports helpfully that telemarketers are operating from a script and advises us to have a script of our own ready:

"Is this your full-time job?"

"Is it important to have good teeth for your job?"

"What kind of toothpaste do you recommend?"

This is more time than I wanted to invest in what I hoped would be a short-term relationship. In a mere 15 seconds, I put myself on the new "Do Not Call" list, maintained by the Federal Trade Commission. I called the toll-free-number - (888) 382-1222 - but I could have registered online at www.donotcall.gov.

The FTC will maintain the list, which is expected to grow to about 60 million phone numbers in the first year. Enforcement begins Oct. 1. I hate to look a gift regulation in the mouth, but I could hang up on Tricia, Debbie and Mitchell absolutely free of charge. I wonder what it will cost taxpayers to block unwanted calls. And what happens if the call originates in Amsterdam? Or in France? Does anybody really think the French would help us collect the $11,000 fine?

And why do we have to sign up not to get a solicitation? Why wasn't there a registry of consumers who welcome a decent sales pitch now and then? The FTC could sell the numbers of these prospects. Even better, willing consumers could be paid for their time. Forbes magazine says, "Paying people to listen would solve the telemarketers' problem, create a new business and avoid regulation." We could point the resources of the FTC at the vile spammers who clog our e-mail with porn.

And allow Tricia, Debbie and Mitchell to dial up people who'd be happy to hear from them.


E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com or phone 768-8393.

Howard: Some good news
Korte: Inside City Hall
Pulfer: Our chance to hang up gently on telemarketers

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