STATE REPRESENTATIVE
PAUL C. CASEY

Room 473-B
State House
Boston, MA 02133
Telephone: (617) 722-2230
District Office
585A Main St.
Winchester, MA 01890
Telephone: (617) 721-7285 or (617) 438-7185

A View from the Hill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 20, 1999
CONTACT: Tom Nolan (617) 722-2240

A MESSAGE TO TELEMARKETERS: HIT THE ROAD

A few nights ago, I was eating dinner with my wife and daughter after a hectic day at the office. As I was trying to coerce Alexandra to finish another ounce of formula, the phone rang. "Hi," the woman said (with a noticeably southern accent), "may I speak to Mr. `Cassie' please." It took all of three seconds to figure out that she was a telemarketer. The warning signs were all there: she lacked a Boston accent, she butchered my last name, and, for someone who didn't know me at all, she was nicer than my grandmother. Before she could give her spiel about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a discounted windshield replacement, I responded with a short and sweet, "I'm not interested, thank you," while still trying to negotiate with my daughter.

There are several different methods of dealing with telemarketers. Some people yell obscenities, and slam down the receiver in anger. Others demand telemarketers' home phone numbers so they can return the same inconvenient interruption. It seems that as the volume of unwanted calls rises, the responses are becoming more and more creative. People now trade stories with each other about how they deal with the annoying phone calls that invariably interrupt dinner time.

My story is but one small example of something that happens every day in households across America. Companies, aggressively selling their products and services, bombard citizens with junk mail, phone calls, and e-mail messages (SPAM). There is nothing wrong with trying to sell things, but when a salesperson invades the privacy of one's home, he or she crosses a line that many of us hold sacred. For those who work all day, the evening is our time- the chance to sit down, relax, read the newspaper, and talk with our loved ones. No one wants to share this precious time listening to sales pitches, filtering out junk mail, and deleting spam messages. As it is, we already face a merciless barrage of advertisements everywhere we go. There must be some "commercial-free" space that we can retreat to at the end of each day.

How do they find us? These unwanted invasions of privacy do not come out of thin air. There are companies whose sole purpose is to gather data on consumers, often, in the most inconspicuous ways. Every time you subscribe to a magazine, order something from a catalog, apply for a credit card, fill out a warranty or "product registration" card, complete an information form on the internet, purchase products from music and book clubs, or use supermarket discount cards, you may be leaking personal information to one of these companies. This data is made into a list and then sold to other businesses who are trying to target potential customers. Once your name, address, or phone number gets on one of these lists, your home becomes open territory. What can we do about it?

People should not feel hopeless about the situation, as there are several courses of action one can take to stop these unwanted solicitations. The Massachusetts State Legislature has enacted several tough consumer protection laws to curb invasive and irresponsible business practices. Many of these protections, such as the "Lemon Law" (which protects consumers from faulty automobiles), are household names. The state Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, the executive agency responsible for enforcing these laws, can be a great resource for those who want to fight back. This office publishes pamphlets that describe consumers' rights, and it maintains a web page (http://www.state.ma.us/consumer/pubs/stopjunk.htm) to inform citizens of the actions they may take to stop solicitation. Here are some of them:

For junk mail:

contact the following organizations and ask them to remove you from their mailing lists:

Direct Marketing Association
Mail Preference Service
Box 9008
Farmingdale, NY 11735

National Demographics and Lifestyles Co.
List Order Department
1621 18th St., Suite 300
Denver, CO 80202
(800) 525-3533

For telemarketers:

request that companies put you on their "do not call" lists
learn about the rules and regulations governing telemarketers, and
report any illegal activity to the Attorney General's Office
contact the following organization and ask to be removed from telemarketing lists:

Telephone Preference Service
Direct Marketing Association
PO Box 9014
Farmingdale, NY 11735

For internet spam:

remove personal information from web service directories
register a complaint to your internet service provider
make sure that companies have privacy policies when you make internet purchases

In most cases, these measures effectively combat unwanted solicitation. However, in an era of unprecedented advances in the areas of information technology and telecommunications, it is necessary to update and tighten the laws to stay ahead of the game. For this reason, we are considering a number of bills that would further restrict intrusive business activities. Anti-spam legislation was introduced into the House of Representatives this January in an effort to hold companies responsible for causing traffic jams on the information superhighway. A number of bills, filed by both the House and the Senate, propose harsh regulations and penalties for telemarketers who transgress the boundaries of decency and fair play. An important aspect of this legislation would establish a "no sales solicitation calls list," compiled by the Massachusetts Secretary of State. This list would identify citizens of the Commonwealth who did not want to receive telephone solicitations. Marketing companies would have to check this index prior to making any calls, and businesses who contacted citizens on the list would be fined up to $5,000 by the Attorney General.

These bills are a great start, but we can't win the fight alone. The problems we face transcend both state and national boundaries. Other states must follow our lead in passing tough consumer protection laws. An abundance of state regulations will provide the federal government with models for national legislation, which could allow us to cooperatively tackle the problem of solicitation.

Despite the prospects for a unified approach to these problems, we should not sit on our hands and wait for help to come from the outside. The State Legislature should continue to take positive strides, alone if necessary, to combat unwanted intrusions of our private space. The trampling of citizens' rights by these irresponsible companies will not be tolerated. Our state must be vigilant in monitoring, and aggressive in issuing the message that unwarranted solicitation does not pay.

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