How do I get the telemarketers to stop calling?



-- I can't stand the ringing anymore! I can't stand it! Arrrrrgh!

Gandma Alice has made you some nice tea. Sit down here next to the aromatherapy candles, and we'll make it all better. Try petting Klaus, the Therapy Ferret, a fully trained professional, proven to lower blood pressure and occasionally bite the heck out of your fingers, guiding you to a balanced state of calm and alertness.

So, my friend, can we assume you've already tried caller ID or an answering machine to screen calls? Sometimes when we're hysterical, the easy solutions elude us. If you're willing to actually speak to the callers, you can request that your name be removed from the list they're using. By law, they should do it. Yeah, I don't like that solution either. A little too labor intensive and chancy.

Well, how about this idea. Since they're obviously messing with your mind, you mess with theirs. And participate in a bona fide scientific experiment at the same time. It's called the Telemarketing Optimization Project, and it is one of dozens of public-interest investigations instigated by the Annals of Improbable Research. They're the zany brainies who award each year the IgNobel Prizes for legitimate research projects by educational institutions that make you want to slap your forehead and say, "Doh! Are they doing that with my tax dollars?"

The TOP works like this. You can easily recognize most telemarketing calls by the one or two seconds of dead air you hear after you pick up the phone and say hello. (A byproduct of the automated dialing systems they use.) When someone finally comes on the line, you should be ready with your own original TOP protocol. AIR has already tried the following: respond to all questions from telemarketers with a soft, plaintive "hi," as if spoken by a wispy child; read from a prepared text (e.g., Newman's World of Mathematics, Vol. 4 or all the digits of pi); sing from a prepared score (e.g., the complete works of Philip Glass). Keep track of the number of calls to which you applied your protocol and average time elapsed before the telemarketer hung up. Send your data, along with a 20-words-or-less description of your protocol to the TOP e-mail address that can be found on AIR's endlessly entertaining website, www.improbable.com. (From the HotAIR home page, find the Mini-AIR archives, then click on June 2.) If you think of it, send a cc: to heymatt. You'll be glad you did.

The Doo-Dah-Dee Factor

Russ from S.D. may have hit on the ultimate solution to the telemarketer problem, from an article in the May 2001 issue of Poptronics magazine, "Telemarketer's Nightmare," written by John Carter of JECH TECHnologies. Here's a summary. Most telemarketers use automatic dialing systems programmed to delete a phone number from the database if, after the number is dialed, the system detects a special information tone. That's the three-note sequence you hear right before a recorded voice says, "The number you have dialed is not in service." Carter says if you record this doo-dah-dee sequence at the beginning of your outgoing answering machine message, your number will be zapped from the telemarketer's base of "good" phone numbers. Get more info and download the tone from www.jechtech.com, or record the tone off your telephone. Or contact me, and I'll send details. We haven't tested it. Russ claims it works.

More Ammunition for Telemarketers

Apparently I didn't offer enough ammo when discussing how to fool telemarketers or at least mess with their minds. I received a few more suggestions that I'll offer here as part of my continuing commitment to the elevation of the quality of life for all personkind. In the next few weeks we'll take on people who throw trash out their car windows and people who don't use directional signals. Little by little, we'll get this place whipped into shape.

Naturally, there are websites devoted to the war on phone solicitation. One site that seems particularly rich is www.netmegs.com/concepts/telemark.htm. Randall Timm suggests you try Enigma, a "nifty little freeware program whose only problem is that it works too well." It gives you a checklist of questions, based on your rights according to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, with which to shoo away annoying calls. Check it out at www.cnn.com/TECH/computing/9901/25/telewar.idg

Another member of Team Matthew Alice passes along these suggestions, also gleaned from the web:

1. If the caller starts out with, "How are you today?" you respond, "I'm so glad you asked, because no one these days seems to care. My arthritis is acting up, my eyelashes are sore, my car won't start," etc., until they hang up.

2. For carpet-cleaning companies: "Can you get blood out? How about goat blood?"

3. Tell the telemarketer you're on home incarceration, and ask them to bring over some beer.

4. Ask him or her to marry you. Or tell them you have no friends and would really like to have friends; then ask if they'll be your friend.

5. Tell them to talk very slowly because you want to write down every word.

If you, yourself, happen to be a proud member of the telemarketing profession -- hey, we're just kidding about all this. And to show you how sincere we are, we'd like to offer you an all-expenses-paid vacation in Vegas! Just send us a check for $800 to cover the postage and handling fees, and we'll have you on a plane tomorrow! Yeah, right.

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