How to Avoid Telemarketers

Are you sick and tired of answering the phone only to hear some sales pitch about something you haven't the remotest interest in? How annoyed are you with hang-ups; you know, where you pick up the phone and there's no one there?

I heard that computers have entered the telemarketing business, and that a salesman has a machine that dials a dozen or more numbers at a time. First number that answers gets connected to the marketer and his spiel. The other numbers are dropped. That explains a lot of the hang-ups that you get.

Another twist is that the telemarketer doesn't even get connected to you until you pick up the phone. I love this one. I come home and play the answering machine and there are several calls that go like this: "(pause) hello? Hello? Hello?" Hang-up. This happens because my answering machine message is very short; only 8 words, 5 of them 3 letters or less. So the marketer never hears it. They just know a phone was answered so they seize the line and start talking.

The latest wrinkle in that scheme is for a recorded message to play when you answer that says, "please hold for an important message. One of our associates will be with you in a moment." Can you imagine the nerve of someone calling and then putting you on hold?

Well, I got tired of it and stumbled onto the solution. I have virtually eliminated any interface with telemarketers. Sure, some of the phone companies have a service available now, but I'm suspicious of it. I'll tell you why in a moment. The solution in a moment, also.

First, though, I have to help you get your mind right. It does take a little personal discipline to accomplish this. But understanding the problem is halfway to the solution.

We have been trained for the last 100+ years to get excited when the phone rings. We rush to answer it, believing that someone wants to talk to us, and that surely we will want to talk to them. The movie makers have used that reaction to great effect. Have you ever seen a movie scene where a phone rings and the character takes quite a while getting to it? Did you ever notice how anxious you start to feel? Like they're not going to get there in time and miss an important clue to the plot? Or they're not going to get the warning to get out of the house in time?

Pavlov would have been proud. The moviemakers have learned to play on our telephone addiction. But a little change in your thinking will reverse the process. First you have to start thinking of your telephone as your tool, your convenience, your service. You are its master. You pay the bills, you have the right to decide when or when not to use it. So, try not answering the phone a few times. Hey, if you weren't home you wouldn't answer it, right? How does whoever is calling you know if you're home or not? After a few times, you'll start not feeling so anxious when the phone rings. You can answer it, or not. Your choice.

Then you have to spend some money. Get an answering machine. Hey, it's the 90s (soon to be aughts); everyone has an answering machine. Good. It's essential for this whole process, although you can certainly start exercising telephone discipline without it. If you have friends or family members, whose calls you don't want to miss, just tell them that you're probably there when they call, and to say something like, "hey, if you're there, pick up. It's whomever." Works great. Unless you have a long message. Which you shouldn't. Those are only entertaining once.

Then spend some more money. Buy a Caller ID box and subscribe to the service including the Name service. When I first got Caller ID, it was with the intention of finding out who was doing the hang-ups (it was freaking my wife out; she figured someone was casing the house for robbery and checking to see if we were home). Then I wanted to get the numbers of the telemarketers so I could call them back and annoy them during dinner.

It will take a month or more, but you will start to notice some things. The most important thing is that virtually every phone call that you want no part of shows up on Caller ID as "unavailable." That puzzled me, because my understanding of the service when it was implemented was that you would get the number unless it had been blocked (which shows up as "anonymous" or "private" depending on the system).

In fact there was a tremendous hue and cry among all sorts of people who didn't want Caller ID implemented. Police departments, doctors, battered spouse shelters, etc. A lot of them had legitimate concerns, which led to the blocking feature.

Incidentally, I and several of my friends have had some spirited debates regarding Caller ID. They regard it as an invasion of privacy to have their phone number identified every time they make a call. I, on the other hand, regard it the same way I do the peep hole on my front door. It's my phone, I pay the bills, and I have the right to choose who I let in, metaphorically, the house.

So, for all that debate, it turns out that the people spending the big bucks with the phone companies, the telemarketers, were able to get their numbers hidden without blocking. Does that bother you? It does me.

So, anyway, how did I stop the telemarketers? Well, I didn't stop them. But I never answer the phone when the Caller ID shows "unavailable", and strangely enough, I virtually never get a marketing call otherwise. Oh, some local small businesses, like lawn care and water softener companies don't have the "unavailable" service, but then their name shows up on the Caller ID, so I still ignore them.

Well, there you have it. First I took control of my phone and my relationship with it. Then I identified the marketers. Then I ignored them. I am much happier now. I am in charge of my phone.

Oh, about that service the phone company is offering? That would be the same phone company that provides the "unavailable" service to the marketers. I don't trust them. They had the opportunity with Caller ID. Why would they bite the hand that's feeding them? But feel free to try it and see. Then let me know. I'll still be ignoring the "unavailable" calls.

Last updated: 27 January 2009

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