Matt and I recently visited my elderly in-laws — and I was amazed at the completely ridiculous number of telemarketing solicitations they receive during the day. Their phone rings off the hook with calls from all kinds of sleazy and predatory companies trying to convince them they have won a free cruise or talk them into burial insurance or scam them with a reverse mortgage. I personally don't get these calls anymore, so I didn't realize this was even still going on!
I don't know about you, but I have never in my life bought anything from a telemarketer. I don't give to charities that solicit donations over the phone if they aren't willing to send me some paperwork to prove that they are legitimate non-profit organizations. And even if you offer a product or service that I would have otherwise been interested in, I'm tremendously less likely to have anything to do with your company if you call ME than if I call YOU.
Apparently, I'm not the only American inclined to tell you to buzz off if you try to solicit my business over the phone. The Direct Marketing Association's most recent survey found that 98% of 1.78 million respondents said telemarketing calls made them “angry,” the FTC receives nearly 20,000 complaints a year, and DMA itself gets 4,000 telemarketing complaints a month. So how exactly is this a profitable business model and why are they still doing it? Well clearly someone is shopping with these people — telemarketing is (if you can believe this) a $400 billion a year industry!
Just like internet spamming, telemarketing is popular because a) setting up a machine to dial a zillion numbers and play a recorded message costs almost nothing, and b) if they get even one person on the hook, they've made money. While there may be one or two legitimate businesses making cold calls out there, this is not where most of the revenue is generated. The National Fraud Information Center and FTC report that 500,000,000 Americans have fallen prey to phony telemarketing schemes, at a loss of more than $100 billion. Investment scams alone cost citizens $1 million an hour — and did you know that charities make more money selling your name and number to other companies than from the donations they collect? Even if you do donate, a mere 24% of the money actually goes to the charity (the telemarketing company gets the rest). The only people making money from telemarketing are the call centers and the scamsters.
While telemarketing calls of any kind are intrusive and annoying, those that target the elderly are downright despicable. More than 56% of the people contacted by telemarketers are age 50+. Unscrupulous businesses go after this particular demographic because older people are seen as more trusting, more likely to stay on the line and feed the telemarketer all kinds of information about themselves, less inclined to just hang up. And the rule of thumb in telemarketing is the longer you can keep someone on the phone, the more likely you are to wear them down! The elderly are also more vulnerable to aggressive and bullying sales techniques, scare tactics, and “too-good-to-be-true” offers. Folks who live on fixed incomes and are worried about money can fall prey to promises of phony rebates, sweepstakes winnings, reduced mortgage rates, or larger-than-life investment returns. And then there are all the people wanting to sell you discounted medical equipment and prescriptions, insurance, and funeral packages. No wonder these slimeballs love my in-laws so much!
While we were visiting, I appointed myself official “F-U-sayer” every time one of these fools called. I've just recently signed my in-laws up for the Do-Not-Call list and when they got a telemarketer on the phone, they would hand it to me — I inform them that we are recording this call, that we have caller ID and know their number, and that I'm going to immediately report them to the FTC and have them fined if they don't ever call here again. Eventually, I'll get to yell at all 65,000 telemarketers who have been harassing them and the phone will finally be silent. The biggest frustration comes with these stupid “robo-callers” that never let you talk to a human being (it's hard to tell a computer to piss off and really get your message across!) At least in my day, it was a real person on the other end of the line (I'm embarrassed to admit that I used to give away timeshare tours as a part-time job in high school) — and you could tell them to leave you the hell alone. But now when you pick up the phone, you get a 20-minute pre-recorded sales pitch. Fortunately, a recent bill was passed making it illegal for companies to contact you via an automated-dialing system without your express written permission — at a penalty of $16,000 per call. And my mother-in-law used to get even more faxed solicitations than phone calls, which was doubly annoying, since it cost her paper and ink every time one of these companies contacted her (but the FTC outlawed junk faxes in 2005).
There are two reasons that my in-laws are bombarded by all these unsolicited calls when Matt and I are not. The first is that we dropped our land-line service and only use cell phones as we RV around the country (FCC regulations prohibit telemarketers from calling cellular numbers). The second is that we listed our phone numbers on the Do-Not-Call list from the moment we got them — my in-laws never did, and I only just signed them up for the service during this visit.
In case you're unfamiliar with the registry, this federal legislation was passed in 2003, prohibiting telemarketers from contacting anyone on the Do-Not-Call list, unless they have done business with that person in the last 18 months. If you aren't already signed up, just call 1-888-382-1222 or go to Do Not Call (you'll need to register each number separately). Telemarketers will have up to 31 days to stop calling you or you can sic the dogs on them!
According to the Economic Report Of The President, 72% of Americans have registered their phone numbers, and 77% of those say that it made a large difference in the number of telemarketing calls that they receive. Just a year after signing onto the list, most folks report an average decrease in telemarketing solicitations from 30 calls per month to 6 per month. If you receive an unsolicited call after joining the registry, let the telemarketer know that you plan on reporting them to the FTC, and that they will be fined $150 for violating the Do-Not-Call legislation. Whether you actually report them or not, that should stop them from bugging you. But, of course, there are some exceptions to the rule:
You also have the right to tell ANY company to take you off of their in-house list — even political parties, charities, current vendors, etc. If these folks keep calling, threaten to report them as well (you can even search for info about the organization by phone number at Every Call). What I don't understand is why you have to make a special effort to not be harassed by these people! I've run my own business quite successfully for more than 10 years, and never once did I call someone who wasn't directly referred to me by a friend or colleague. From the very beginning, the system should have been opt-in, not opt-out. Now, if they'll only add texting to the law!
Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream with The Husbert and two fur-babies. Learn more at GettingOrganizedAToZ.com and RamonaCreel.com.
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