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Jewish World Review April 23, 2002 / 12 Iyar, 5762

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Consumer Reports

How to make telemarketing go away | I have triumphed over telephone marketers, and I've never felt so powerful. Little things go a long way.

But of course telemarketing calls are not just little things. An amazing dozen times a day at my house, naturally at the most inopportune times, the phone would shrilly ring with those unwanted sales calls. During dinner, during the baby's nap, when I had a load of laundry in my arms or was racing to meet a deadline, the phone would jangle that dastardly ring.

Sure, I have caller-ID, but I'd still have to get to the phone to see it was a so-called "out of area," "unknown," or otherwise anonymous caller. And then, what if on the off chance it actually was someone I wanted to talk to? I mean, maybe it was ABC calling from New York about filling Peter Jennings' slot. (He is getting older, you know.) And maybe ABC couldn't, or wouldn't, be "identified." So sometimes I would take the risk and answer, but of course there was always a short pause before a perfectly nice but tinny voice would ask, "is Mrs. Hart available?"

And it wasn't ABC.

I would say "not interested" and hang-up - as nicely as I could, of course. I felt sorry for the poor guy or gal on the other end of the line. They were just trying to do a job after all. Still, this was MY HOME they were invading.

Sadly, I can understand why telemarketers sit on a lower social rung than divorce lawyers.

I can also understand why there are growing demands for federal legislation that would curtail or stop telemarketing calls. Another alternative is apparently to demand that my name be taken off whatever list these folks use, and then if they call again, "bammo!" Lawsuit.

But, the latter seems cumbersome and probably ineffective and the former seems a little bit unfair. There are, after all, a certain percentage of the population who respond to telemarketers either by buying their products or giving to the charities or causes for which they solicit. People may complain, but if everybody in America stopped buying from or giving to telemarketers tomorrow the telemarketers would go out of business the day after tomorrow. You can't be outraged one minute and then agree to tour a "time-share" property when solicited by a phone call the next. Clearly, these people serve some sort of legitimate function in the marketplace.

And de-listing my phone number? Forget it, it's a waste of time. These telemarketers are nothing if they are not entrepreneurial about getting that information.

OK, so absolutely everybody reading this column is thinking "what did she do?" No, I did not throw my phones into the river, though I might like to. I gladly signed up to pay $5 a month to my phone company to get something called "call intercept." Every time it's an "out-of-area" or otherwise anonymous caller, the phone company somehow grabs it before it ever gets to me. (Meaning my phone doesn't even ring.) Only if the caller is willing to give his name and phone number to the "intercept" service, which telemarketers do not do, or if he gives a "code" I set up, does he then get through to me.

If not, no dice. Bingo. Since my "call intercept" went into effect one week ago I've not gotten one, single, solitary telemarketing call. I think with this new service, being offered by more and more phone companies around the country, the telephone utilities can undo any and all PR damage they've inflicted on themselves over the last 50 years.

Though I don't mind admitting that the whole thing is a little unsettling at first. Things are a lot quieter, and when the phone does ring I can't sort of avoid it altogether with the justification that it's probably "just a telemarketer."

But it does show the marketplace itself can "right" many of the "wrongs" in, well, the marketplace. So stop complaining, stop writing your congressman, stop tearing your hair out, and stop being rude to the poor guy just trying to make a buck by selling you a service that apparently some schmuck somewhere actually wants. Just shell out the five dollars and get "call intercept" or whatever it's called where you live.

Consider the five bucks part of the price of enjoying a free economy. And talk about getting one's "money's worth."

I just hope I haven't missed ABC's call.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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