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
Direct Marketing Association
Mail Preference Service
Farmingdale, NY 11735
National Demographics and Lifestyles Co.
List Order Department
1621 18th St., Suite 300
Denver, CO 80202
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
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
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
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.