There are things you can do to stop those

May 06, 2002|By LAURA ERNDE

It's called telemarketing, but someone whose dinner gets interrupted by a sales call might call it teleharassment.

That annoying ring always seem to come at the most inopportune time.

While you may feel powerless against the barrage of phone calls, there's a lot you can do to stop telemarketers from calling your house, consumer advocates say.

First of all, when you get a sales call, don't just hang up or say you're not interested. That's just asking for a repeat call, according to the Maryland Attorney General's Office.

Instead, ask the company to take your name off its call list. By federal law, that company is barred from calling you for 10 years.


The next step is registering with the Direct Marketing Association's Telephone Preference Service. (See box). Association members will vow not to call you for five years.

Telemarketers aren't interested in harassing customers, said Jim Conway, the DMA's vice president for government relations.

"We don't want to call anyone who doesn't want to hear from us," he said.

Conway admits that the telemarketing industry won't win any popularity contests. He finds that out whenever he tells people that his job is to protect the industry from government regulation.

"Believe me, at cocktail parties it gets pretty tough," he said.

But there's a simple reason those widely disliked people on the other end of the line keep calling - money.

Telemarketing generates $661 billion in sales every year, Conway said.

While people must be buying what the telephone callers are selling, apparently no one wants to admit it.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Ron Raymond, R-Delaware County, got so many complaints about telemarketing calls he sponsored legislation to create a "do-not-call" list for his state's residents.

Soon, Pennsylvanians will be able to put their names on a list that all telemarketers - even those who are not Direct Marketing Association members - must consult before making sales calls, said Barbara Petito, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office.

Petito's office is in the process of hiring a nonprofit company to build and manage the list, she said.

Consumers will be notified of the program in their phone bills.

The new law also requires that telemarketers stop blocking their phone number from showing up on residents' Caller ID boxes, she said.

Twenty-three states have set up their own "do not call" lists, but Maryland and West Virginia are not among them, Conway said.

Support for a program would be strong in the Eastern Panhandle, according to a 2-year-old poll by Del. John Overington, R-Berkeley. The poll showed 94 percent would support a "do not call" list in West Virginia.

The Newspaper Association of America, a nonprofit organization that represents more than 2,000 newspapers in the United States and Canada, opposes national "do-not-call" rules.

NAA President and CEO John F. Sturm said in comments filed to the Federal Trade Commission that NAA members should be exempt from any such rule, and that exisiting laws governing telemarketing practices are enough.

"Newspapers have a compelling business interest not to engage in the abusive practices the FTC is targeting with these proposed regulations," Sturm said.

He said nearly 60 percent of new newspaper subscription sales are generated by telemarketing - the single largest source of new subscribers.

While getting on various lists will reduce the number of telemarketing calls, it won't eliminate them.

Charities and politicians will still be able to make unsolicited calls, Petito said.

Other tips for reducing telemarketing calls, according to the Maryland Attorney General's Office:

n Get an unlisted number.

n Keep your phone number to yourself. Don't print your phone number on your checks. Don't put your phone number on forms or give it to businesses unless absolutely necessary.

n Be aware of phone technology. Companies you call may "capture" your phone number and add it to a marketing list. At no cost, you can block your number from being displayed by dialing *67 and waiting for a dial tone before making a call. Call blocking won't work with 800- or 900-numbers.

n Screen calls.

There's also a new device on the market called the TeleZapper that claims to block telemarketing calls.

Conway said the TeleZapper works with most metropolitan telephone systems by detecting a telemarketer on the other line and sending the telemarketer a message that your line has been disconnected.

The TeleZapper recognizes the distinctive pause that comes with the automatic dialing systems used by telemarketers.

You might think the telemarketing industry would hate such a device. But Conway, who supports free market rules, said if there's a market for the TeleZapper, so be it.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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