A good “call” for home workers

Remember the fuss when the National Do Not Call Registry debuted almost 10 years ago? No more telemarketing calls! No more dinnertime distractions! Take that, aluminum-siding salesmen! But there were exceptions … for charities, surveys, political calls, businesses we’ve done business with, and of course bill collectors. And, it turns out, for sneaky telemarketers who find ways around the list—by disguising their numbers and names and just plain daring the Federal Trade Commission to come get them.

I spend most of my working life in employers’ offices, but there are plenty of days at my home desk. It’s amazing how often the phone rings. Amvets wants to collect clothing. Senior Medical Advisory (on several scam lists) wants to protect me from falls. “Card Services” wants to lower my credit-card rate. It lies about having sent two notices by mail and lies again about this being our last chance (if only). It or them I have reported to the FTC at least 10 times, but the number keeps changing. FTC, are you listening? Show a little “interest” and shut them down!

One thing Congress and President Bush did for us was the Do-Not-Call Improvement Act, a practical law that allowed us to register a phone number only once rather than every five years. According to the 2009 Economic Report of the President by the Council of Economic Advisors, “The program has proved quite popular: as of 2007, according to one survey, 72 percent of Americans had registered on the list, and 77 percent of those say that it made a large difference in the number of telemarketing calls that they receive (another 14 percent report a small reduction in calls). Another survey, conducted less than a year after the Do Not Call list was implemented, found that people who registered for the list saw a reduction in telemarketing calls from an average of 30 calls per month to an average of 6 per month.”

(Surveys, huh? Were they done by phone?)

One statement that often discombobulates telemarketers is “You’ve reached a business line.” If I can get a word in edgewise, that usually stops them. “Oh,” they say, “uh, okay, sorry.” The Do Not Call Registry applies only to residential lines, but telemarketers aren’t going to get far calling businesspeople, so they hang up—and possibly cross out the number. Sometimes people are particularly dense, though. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which claimed to be on a recorded line and not fundraising, blew right past the first time, so I had to repeat myself. Then, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t understand when you said that before. That’s okay, we can call businesses too. Today we want to—”

“Excuse me,” I said, politely, “I’m at work. Thank you.” Click.

Earlier this month the FTC announced the winners of its contest for ways to block robocalls. One invention routes calls to a second line, which identifies bad calls and cuts them off (the way an email filter handles spam). The other simply blocks unwanted calls after checking a list of “good and bad phone numbers,” according to news reports. These don’t sound all that effective as described, especially the second one, but maybe the problem is with the description. In any case, hooray for trying.

Because the person on the other end of the phone might be a source calling back or my editor with an assignment. Even with Caller ID, it’s hard to tell. When it turns out to be some recording offering to lower my credit-card rate, it stops my train of thought and also stops that source or editor from getting through. Calls I don’t want are a drain on commerce and specifically on the work the boss wants finished today. If it wouldn’t take so much time, I’d start call-bombing the FTC to say so.

Copyright 2013 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

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