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Jan 5, 2009

Scam: Telemarketers with No Number or Location

What I do to fight the good fight

I get about three phone calls/week from telemarketers.

About one call/week seems to be from a charity I have given to, or from some random "charity". How would I know who is really calling? Some of those calls start with "We don't want any money". The last one, from "... Heart Association ...", proposed that I get a mailing kit from them to mail 8 letters to my friends. I didn't find out if they wanted money for that. I told the rep that they had to be crazy, said "thanks", and hung up.

I am on the Do Not Call List. Maybe that has helped, but I don't know who has been polite enough not to call me. The law about calling allows charities, political organizations, and poll takers to call anyway. My preference is to have none of these organizations call me.

About two calls/week have been from automatic dialing systems with recorded messages. Two organizations are most interested in me. "Card Services" wants to lower the interest rate on my credit card balance. "Auto Warranty Center" wants to save me thousands of dollars in car repairs by extending the warranty on my car.

(I am only talking about the companies I have talked to that identify themselves this way. There may be other companies of the same names who haven't called me.)

I Won't Trust Them

These may be legal businesses, but they don't meet my standards for identifying themselves. They want me to pay and/or give them my credit card information immediately, right there on the phone, no waiting. They won't send any documentation ahead of payment. One rep said "These materials cost money, and there is the postage. We can't just send them out before we are paid". They offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, just call them back after they charge my card, if there is any way to contact them later.

They don't act like trustworthy businesses. I have asked both of them to stop calling me and to give me their address and phone number. They continue to call me, and they hang up when I ask for their identification.

According to The Federal Communications Commission , Card Services and Auto Warranty Center may have broken the law from the start:

[edited]  All artificial or prerecorded telephone messages must state at the beginning the identity of the business or individual that is responsible for the call. A business must give their registered name within their state. During or after the message, the caller must give the telephone number of the business (not the autodialer), so that you can call back to ask that the company no longer call you.

Their messages don't do that, unless the law thinks that "Card Services" is a legitimate identification. When I listened to the entire message, it only says "Press 1 for a representative, or 2 to remove your number from our list".

What I Have Done

I pressed 2 for a while, signaling the automated dialer to remove me from their calling list. It didn't work.

A few times I pressed 1 to talk to a representative. I strung them along for a while, giving no real information, to see what they wanted. At some point, they wanted my credit card information, either to bill me or (worse) "check my account" with my card number and PIN code. Of course, I don't give my card number to unknown people, and I never reveal the PIN, not even at the counter of a retailer. A PIN should only be typed into a keypad, and shield the keys from view.

They are well trained to hang up as soon as I ask for a business location. Sometimes, they give out a web site or callback number. These have been either empty shell websites, or someone else's website, or a fake number, so it doesn't prove anything. They hang up dispassionately and mid-sentence, when I show by my questions that I will not be a sale.

What I Will Do

I will always press 1 to talk to someone. Their operations depend on intelligent people not answering the automated call. Their auto-dialers probably call 100 people to get one gullible response. They depend on spending no human time talking to the thousands of people who they irritate and cannot lure into a transaction.

They provide key press 2 ("delete the phone number") to lower the number of people who want to talk to a rep. Of course it doesn't do anything.

If we all press 1, it will tie up their operations. You have a right to talk to a rep; they called you.

On a busy day, I press 1 and lay the phone down for a while, and they hang up in about a minute. I talk to the rep for a few minutes when I have the time. Sometimes, I ask the rep if he/she would show me that their business is not a scam, by giving me their business address and phone. They hang up. Sometimes, I ask the rep what it is like to work for a criminal organization. One time, the rep cursed at me before hanging up. Satisfying.

These unprincipled businesses/scams are stealing our attention and time. I think the only way to fight back is to use a little time here and there to waste their time.

Maybe someday we will convince our politicians to serve us by making these auto-dialed and cold-call practices clearly and simply illegal, not just with a no-call list and saying "pretty please".

Scammer Post-It Note

01/15/09 - I received a call from the robot dialer of Card Services and pressed "1" as usual to talk to a representative. We had talked for only a minute, and I had said "yes" to being interested in lower credit card rates.

The rep hung up abruptly. There was no reason from our conversation to drop me as a likely prospect. I assume that the rep looked at the post-it note on her terminal that told her not to talk to that guy, who was a waste of time.

I am encouraged that I have had a small effect on a scam organization. I have won a place on the side of a terminal, or on their own printed don't talk list. Join me in the fight.

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