Shutting down the telemarketers, part two

empty telemarketing center
empty telemarketing center

On December 1, the Federal Trade Commission closed one of the major loopholes that were still open to telemarketers. Although the 2003 Do-Not-Call Implementation Act made it illegal for telemarketers to contact registered phone numbers, the law did not extend to charities and companies with whom the residents had a prior relationship. This meant that, every time you applied for a credit card or ordered a magazine subscription, you effectively opened the door to an endless series of annoying phone calls. As of Monday, however, electronic phone calls from marketers must offer you a way to opt out of future solicitations.

For those of us who had phone numbers in 2003, this feels like the final battle in a long, brutal war. Prior to the implementation of the Do-Not-Call Registry, telemarketers seemingly had total carte blanche. They would call for most of the day and a large portion of the night, offering deals, demanding donations, and generally breaking up the flow of one's routine. Admittedly, this led to a little bit of fun, as I used to tell them that I was dead, act out domestic disasters on the phone, or ask for the caller's home phone numbers so I could call him at an inconvenient time. However, even the most ridiculous reverse harassment didn't change the fact that they had the legal right to regularly interrupt my life.

When the registry went into effect, it was like I had been liberated. Call volume in my house massively dropped, particularly after I began answering the phone with the words "I'm on the registry. If I don't know you, you're breaking the law." With every hurried click of a phone hanging up, my heart became a little lighter. Soon, however, telemarketers found the great loophole: If I had previously done business with them, they were legally allowed to call me. While the phone calls never returned to pre-registry numbers, they were still pretty high.

Time will tell if this new technique works or if it is merely opening the door to the next twist in the battle. The irony, of course, is that these phone calls are not very effective. In fact, when the McCain/Palin team began using "robocalls" in the final days of the last presidential campaign, they drew criticism from both parties. Even Governor Palin criticized the tactic. Maybe, with any luck, the days of unsolicited phone calls may be drawing to a close!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. Now if they could only apply the death penalty to habitual spammers...