I know. What in the WORLD are you doing Steven? What do telemarketers have to do with Night Photography?
Well, nothing except that they have been impacting my phone usage.
I have raised over $15,000 for charitable causes by suing illegal telemarketers in small claims court in California. You can too. Or if you’d rather you can put the money in your own pocket. But I’m not going to try to explain in this article how you should go about suing telemarketers. The rules and restrictions vary from state to state and court to court. Some web searching will land you on various sites – I have listed a few below for your convenience.
I want to give you some advice on how to reduce the chance that you will get telemarketed, or reduce the telemarketing you do get (as well as collect the necessary information to prosecute the vermin). But first I need to explain the four kinds of telemarketers.
Four Kinds of Telemarketers
- Groups who HAVE a business relationship with you and are legally allowed to call you for their own fun and profit.
- Exempt charities, political parties and “survey takers”.
Getting them To Stop
It is very easy to turn a type One telemarketers into type Three. When they call you merely say: “Please place this number on your DO NOT CALL list – and if you are telemarketing for any other division, affiliate, company or agency I wish to be on THAT DO NOT CALL list also.” You can reinforce that with “I wish to receive no telemarketing calls of any kind, is that clear?” But say it nice and friendly-like. There is little point in being ugly. By the way, if you are an AT&T customer and tell ATT to put you on the do not call list, they are still allowed to call you about your account – just not to call you to tell you about their wonderful new service that you will find irresistable (and of course expensive).
Notice that I am saying to put my number ON a list not to take a number off a list! If you use the correct specific language it has a legal meaning under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act Laws. If you don’t use the second phrase about affiliates telemarketing firms can literally add your name to the Sears Do Not Call List while simultaneously putting you in the rotation for OTHER companies to call you. It’s also why you do not want to be ugly about it. Another great tactic is to ask them to send you a written copy of their Do Not Call Policy. If they don’t do so within 30 days, you have a $500 violation to sue against.
Charities, political parties, and “survey takers” are not obligated to stop calling you. So my favorite tactic with them is to say. “I do not take part in surveys of any kind. You should add me to your Do Not Call list. If I continue to be called I will do my best to skew your statistics with complete lies as answers.” Some surveys are really marketing ploys in disguise. Sometimes its really fun to play with the phony survey people until they tip their hand.
My experience is that most “boneheads” will indeed stop calling you. You can tell the difference between a bonehead and a scumbag. The ordinary telemarketer (bonehead) will do what they are legally required to do when you ask them who they are: they will TELL you who they are. Scumbags will hang up, avoid the question, or equivocate.
How To Avoid Being Called in the First Place
Do Not Disclose!
It might seem obvious, but do not disclose your real phone number where it doesn’t make sense to. Even if they ask nicely. If it is online, you can use the 555 number method – or the POPCORN (old time and temperature). But be careful. Do NOT pick random numbers or you will cause telemarketing anguish to a random person and your bad karma will haunt you. Instead try getting e.g. a Google VOICE number and give that number out, not your real number. When I strongly suspect that a site is going to abuse my number, I may give them the number for the 24 hour recorded visitors hotline at a state prison.
Do Not Answer
Unless you plan to log the call, often it is best to just not answer – especially if the number is not recognizable. Some automated systems merely dial “plausible numbers” at random hoping to get hits. If you answer they know your number is VALID. (Same thing applies to spam Email – if you answer or open foreign email you are unwittingly verifying that a human reads email at that address.)
Do NOT Call Back
Many caller ID numbers (and ALL 800, 866 and 877 numbers) send your phone number to the person you are calling EVEN if you have blocked your number. If you want to test a suspicious number, use Skype so that you’re not giving them your real phone number! Telemarketers can claim that your call to their 800 number is evidence that you were indeed interested in their subsequent calls.
Play the Keep Them On the Line Game
If you think you may end up suing them (or want to), be as pleasant as possible. Engage them. Feign interest in their worthless products. Your goals are twofold:
- Know that the longer you tie them up, the less opportunity they have to disturb the next victim (my record is 43 minutes to a caller from India).
- You need at least to collect their business name, and address to sue them. Most of the scumbag telemarketers will NEVER give you any of that unless you convince them that you really DO want to get a 17% mortgage because you’re desperate. Once you can talk to someone who PAID for that scumbag telemarketer to call you have a target for your law suit. The scumbag telemarketing firms are selling leads to often unsuspecting companies whom you are legally permitted to sue and unfortunately OBLIGATED to sue to get the calling to stop. And despite what they say, most of them KNOW that their telemarketers are shady illegal operators.
Know How the Dialing Game Works
I am ashamed to admit it, but I have some patents on predictive dialers. What these devices do is have a computer do all the dialing. The computer – not a human – then listens for a human voice followed quickly by a pause. Why? Because what do you do when you answer the phone? You say something like “Hi, this is Steven.” or “Smith and Wesson Enterprises, how can I direct your call?” Once the computer detects voice followed by a pause it transfers the call to an agent (if they aren’t using an automated message, that is). Ever notice how sometimes you answer and there is a long pause before someone on the other end speaks? Yeah, it’s because there was no PERSON on the line until a second or so after you stopped speaking!
If the human voice goes on much longer than normal for a greeting the computer assumes it has reached an answering machine and will just hang up and schedule you for another call.
So.. I recommend:
- Have an answering machine with a SHORT message. “Hi, this is Steven, leave me the good news.”
- When doing battle, answer with a short and peculiar phrase. “He’s dead, Jim.” or “Hi, my name is Princess Jasmina” (if you’re a guy). If the call was made by a computer, the human will never have heard that. If they did hear it, they are probably a bonehead, not a scumbag. Recently I answered with “you realize you’re an idiot, right?” The caller had no clue. They never heard it.
The point of doing the short phrase is to FORCE the computer to engage a person at the other end. Waste some of their time! Another reason is if you’re being targeted by a system that leaves an “automated message” (illegal in California), you can often trick the system into leaving a recorded message on your answering machine which may come in handy in court.
If You Decide To Sue
First keep a log of your calls. I would recommend only using small claims court. Not only is it cheaper and cost effective, but in the long run it will be more effective. I assume you’re a little guy like me. If you want to put an end to raids by huge ornery bear (e.g. large moneyed up scumbag telemarketer), you have two choices for effective weapons: a large gun (big expensive attorney), or a bee sting. If the gun misses, the bear is going to win. But even a huge bear is no match for a swarm of angry bees – e.g. little guys like you and me.
There are lots of places on the internet. The phrases “suing” and “telemarketer” gets lots of hits.
- My personal hero is Steve Kirsch of JunkFax.org. The site has some resources to help against audio telemarketing though the laws for Fax are different. In fact when I filed my first small claims action the firm I hired to “serve process” wondered if Steve Kirsch had sent me since we were suing in the same small claims court.
- KillTheCalls.com – lots of articles and references.
- How to Sue Telemarketers – UCAN
- Zen and the Art of Small Claims (Washington State)
- Telemarketer vs Washington, DC Lawyer
- Oh, and DO register your numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry!
- Anti-Telemarketing Script (the questions you should ask, but you may have to be sneaky)
- Call Log – You should keep a written record of your calls and the answers you get from going through the Anti-Telemarketing script.
Best of Luck!