For whom the phone tolls - reader's respond

We asked Homefront readers last month to share how they politely reduced the din of unwanted telemarketing calls. The response was almost deafening - and often funny. Clearly, some have arrived at the modern "Greek" definition of telemarketing: tele meaning long distance and market meaning interrupted dinner.

Here's an edited sampling of some of your methods.

There are three responses I use, depending on my mood and the nature of the telemarketing call. Only the first one is true (90 percent).

1. "We are in our middle 80s. We don't use our credit card and the only thing we buy is groceries."

2. At the first break in the pitch: "Gimme your whole spiel. I just got out of jail four days ago and I'm interested in what's going on in the world."

3. No habla ingles.

James Ballen

Noblesville, Ind.

I do not know the name of the law or regulation involved [see top right], but since my brother shared with me the magic (yet polite) words, "Please put me on your do not call list," our household has effectively reduced the number of unwanted calls by about 95 percent. The dinner hour is again peaceful here.

Before I knew about this law, I once used the "H" word to good effect. A charity that sounded rather suspicious kept calling back no matter how many times we said we were not interested. I finally said, "You know, this feels like harassment to me." Never heard from that group again.

Linda Keenan

Salisbury, Vt.

I use an answering machine to screen calls... [But if one gets through,] a pitch I've been using lately is to react as though I've been long awaiting the phone call. "Vinyl Siding? I am so glad you called. You have no idea how long I've been waiting for this call. Day after day, I have sat here watching my phone, hoping that a vinyl siding salesperson would call me. You know I tried vinyl windows last year, but I had to give them up. They weren't as easy to see through as the glass variety. But hey, you've gotta try things to enjoy life...."

They get the picture, usually chuckle and then sign off. It sure beats listening to their long monologue as you try to find a "polite" way to end the misery.

Tom Newcomb

Olympia, Wash.

Our unwanted phone solicitations usually fall into the following categories: Charities, home improvements, insurance, telephone changes, and credit-card solicitations.

I tell the first group that I never contribute to or buy anything over the phone.

I've also found a quick way to discourage even the most aggressive credit-card people. I tell them that they wouldn't be interested in our business anyway because we always pay in full before the end of the grace period. They hang up immediately.

Our calls have dropped dramatically since we've adopted these rules.

Pat and Jack Porter

Mechanicsburg, Pa.

When I answer the phone and hear the telltale 2- to 3-second pause before Mr. X speaks - I know I have been snagged by a telemarketer. The pause from the caller in responding to my "hello" is due to the telemarketer scanning the computer to see which unfortunate target of his automated dialer has picked up the phone.

Before the caller can launch into his or her spiel, I say, "I don't accept telephone solicitations" and hang up. Not rudely, but certainly not apologetically. It still wastes 10 seconds of my time but at least I avoid getting into a tiresome "dialogue" with the offensive party.

Before learning this technique, I once resorted to asking a magazine subscription salesperson if they offered a braille edition. (I know, bad for one's karma - but boy did it work!)

Now I just cut to the chase. When your home is being invaded at the most inconvenient of times, no justification for disinterest need be offered.

The alternative is to force friends and legitimate business callers to have to wait while my answering machine "screens" their calls. That's not the message I want to give my friends.

Mark Martinez

New York, N.Y.

I always leave the answering machine on so I can hear the incoming message. If it is someone I want to talk to, I can pick up the phone.

Sometimes I am upstairs and pick up the phone while it is ringing. If it is a salesperson, I tell them I would love to buy their widget, but I have been out of work for eight months [which isn't true]. That usually prompts them to hang up.

Michael Beck

Los Angeles, Calif.

I just answer with "I'm eating now, please give me your home phone number and I'll call you back later." If they balk about giving me their home phone number, I tell them, "You called me at home, why can't I call you at home?" After that, they hang up.

Mordy Friedberg

When they ask to speak to me or my husband, I say, "He/she isn't home - can I take a message?" They usually immediately say they will call back ... and hang right up! Sometimes they will ask, when calling for my husband, if I am Mrs. Andresen ... and I say no. Bam - they're gone!

Carol Andresen

Greensboro, N.C.

I never answer the first or second ring. At the second ring, my message taker gives my phone number and "Please start talking after the beep."

At that point many people hang up. Just fine with me. If someone says who he (she) is, and if I want to take the call, I pick up the phone with a cheery "I'm here."

This procedure started many years ago when my son was chairman of the neighborhood association. I found that a caller with a neighborhood subject often insisted on giving me long descriptions of problems. With the machine I was spared having to relay dissertations. Once in a while someone chides me with "I have been trying to reach you, but you are never home." So we explain how a caller can get through.

Francis Price Cook

Portland, Ore.

UNDER FEDERAL LAW, if you tell a telemarketer to put your number on their "do not call list," they must comply. The law also states calls must be made between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. The telemarketer must give you a copy of its do-not-call policy, if you request it.

If the caller violates this law (charities and public-opinion pollsters are exempt), you can sue for up to $500 for each call. Many states have recently passed similar laws creating local do-not-call lists and stiffer fines.

You can also get on a national do-not-call list by mailing your name, address and telephone number to Telephone Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, P.0. Box 9014, Farmingdale, NY, 11735. Some but not all telemarketers buy this list from the association.

For $20, Private Citizen (P.O. Box 233, Naperville, IL, 60566 or at www.private-citizen.com) will send your name to more than 1,500 local and national telemarketers, including surveyers and fund-raisers. The callers are warned about your right to a $500 "fee" if a call is received.

Some $171,000 in "fees" has been collected by members since 1996. Members get a list of firms, a newsletter, and information on telemarketing laws.

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