The FTC Helps Disconnect Telemarketers

Physician's Money Digest, March15 2003, Volume 10, Issue 5

The scenario is familiar. You and yourfamily have just settled down for dinner.Now it's time to relax and spend somequality time with your family. And thenthe phone rings. "Good evening, Dr.Jones," the voice on the line announces."I'm with XYZ Financial Services. I'm callingto inform you that you've been selectedto receive a free, 30-day trial enrollmentin our protection plan. There's noobligation. We'll even throw in a $50 savingsbond, and you may be eligible for acompletely paid trip to Hawaii?"

A telemarketer has once again zappedyour relaxing dinner hour. Take heart, yourcalls for relief are being heard. The FederalTrade Commission (FTC) is taking steps toshield Americans from irritating telemarketers.The bad news is that even if theFTC's plan survives the challenges it's sureto face from direct marketers, those exasperatingphone calls are unlikely to disappearcompletely. Where there's a rule,there's always a loophole.

New York Times

According to a recent report, the FTC has responded to consumers'complaints with plans for a nationaldo-not-call list. Consumers would beable to register for the government-sponsoredlist over the Internet or via a toll-freephone number. By registering, your phonenumber would be added to a list that telemarketersare required to check every 3months and use to update their files.

Telemarketing calls could not be placedto those numbers on the list for 5 years, oruntil the phone number changes. In addition,telemarketers would be required toreveal their phone numbers on Caller IDsystems, so before getting sucked into abreathless stream of marketing gibberish,you would know who's calling.

The FTC proposal carries some deterrents.For example, companies that violatethe ban on calls would be subject to finesof up to $11,000 per call.

TELEMARKETERS FIGHT BACK

Can you think of anyone who wouldnot want to be on a do-not-call list, whowould opt to hear the latest credit cardcompanies' ploy to squeeze an extra$79.95 a year from them? However, anindustry that places some 100 millioncalls a day and took in more than $293billion in revenue last year is not aboutto go away quietly.

Consider that there are already 27states with established do-not-call lists,and 12 million Americans have signed upfor them, yet phones continue to ring.

Times

In response to efforts to restrict telemarketing,many companies have begunto cross-train customer service representatives.For example, the article notesthat if you call AT&T with a billing question,it's a safe bet the representative willtry to persuade you to sign up for localphone service. At many banks, customerservice representatives have been trainedto push overdraft protection services forcustomers calling in after bouncing acheck. And credit card company reps areincluding sales pitches when customersphone in to activate their new cards.

MARKETERS FIND LOOPHOLES

In addition, despite the best intentionsof the FTC, the proposed new rules won'tapply to nonprofit or political groups.Entities like banks and phone companies,both of which make extensive use of telemarketing,would be impacted by therules only if they hired third-party companiesto make calls for them.

And while the FTC says the do-not-calllist will be up and running 7 months afterCongress passes the necessary legislation,the projected cost of implementing the list($16 million) has already far exceeded theoriginal estimates of $5 million.

The Direct Marketing Association, theindustry trade group, says it will challengethe FTC's authority to implement ado-not-call list, arguing that such a listinfringes on corporate free-speech rights.Recent history may be on the industry'sside. The federal appeals court inWashington, DC, that would hear thistype of case has already handed down aseries of decisions that sided with industry,striking down regulations and proposalson the grounds of free speech.

Don't despair. There are some steps youcan take to reduce the number of telemarketingcalls you receive. For starters,visit the Web site www.PrivacyCorps.com,which offers a link to information on the27 states that presently or will shortly haveno-call lists. If available in your state, haveyour name added to the list.

Another site to visit is that of the DirectMarketing Association, at www.dmaconsumers.org. Clicking on "Remove myname from those lists" should stop callsfrom the organization's 5000 membercompanies. The cost is $5 to sign uponline, but free if you register by mail.

Lastly, when you do receive a call froma telemarketer, tell them to put yourname on their do-not-call list, as well asthe list for every organization they makecalls for. It may not end the annoyance,but it's a start.