Leave me alone! How to beat telemarketers at their own game - MoneySense

Leave me alone! How to beat telemarketers at their own game

How to beat telemarketers at their own game and have your dinner peace.


When Maryel Jenvey of Delta, B.C., answers the phone and finds one of those fast-talking telemarketers on the other end of the line she never loses her cool.

“I just cut them off and politely say, ‘Can you hold on for a second?’ And then I leave the phone sitting there and finish making my dinner,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve ever had someone who was still there when I came back.”

Jenvey doesn’t want to be rude, but consumers’ war against telemarketers is escalating, and the conflict is not always pretty. Thanks to computerized dialers, cheap long distance rates and massive high-tech call centres, we’re getting more and more calls from slicker and slicker salespeople. An Environics survey shows that households with incomes of $80,000 or more receive an average of five bothersome sales calls a week, and if you’re unlucky enough to appear on a “hot prospects” list, you can get that many a day.

Most civilized countries have dealt with the problem by establishing government-run do-not-call lists. You just have to register once on the list and no telemarketers are allowed to bother you for years. The U.S. has such a list and 76% of American adults have already signed up. The U.K. has one, Australia just got one and even India is planning to roll one out by the end of the year.

In Canada, we’re out of luck, although we were supposed to have a list years ago. The lobby groups have watered the proposal down (political parties, charities, pollsters and even newspapers are now exempt) and the legislation has been passed, but the CRTC, which is overseeing the project, seems to be having trouble getting it up and running. Their latest estimate is that it will launch in early 2008 &#8212 if we’re lucky.

In the meantime, how can you deal with one of modern life’s most annoying interruptions? Try these techniques, and soon you’ll be enjoying your dinner in peace.

The other do-not-call list

Most Canadians don’t know about it, but the industry group that represents telemarketers and their brethren has quietly launched its own do-not-call list. You can sign up quickly and easily at the Canadian Marketing Association website by clicking on the Do Not Contact Service button on the right-hand side. The service is free and the CMA says that six weeks after you join up, you should see an 80% reduction in telemarketing calls and junk mail. Not all telemarketers belong to the group, though, so you’ll still get some calls.

Know your rights

You have legislated rights when dealing with telemarketers, though they’ll never let on that you do. When a telemarketer calls, tell him to put you on his company’s do-not-call list. By law, he has to stop the patter and do it right away. He even has to give you a confirmation number as evidence that your request has been processed.

If he ignores your request, you can complain to your phone company or the CRTC. If necessary, the CRTC can hit the telemarketer where it hurts, and suspend their phone service.

Zap ’em

The TeleZapper is a little device that you can hook up to your phone line to reduce telemarketing calls. It works by mimicking the same three-note tone that the phone company uses to tell callers that a line is out of service. That tone tells the computerized autodialers used by telemarketers to remove your number from their master list. “We noticed almost right away when we hooked it up that the number of calls went down,” Jenvey says. “I would recommend it.”

Get your own spiel

Marjorie Jones receives up to four telemarketing calls a day, but the Ottawa librarian dispatches them effortlessly with her own telephone script. “I just say, ‘Thank-you for calling, but I don’t make purchases over the phone,’ and then I hang up,” she says. “Sometimes they’re still talking when I do.” She delivers her message calmly and coolly, and her blood pressure never rises. “It doesn’t bother me. I know some people get stressed out, but really, you should get a grip.”

What’s your line?

We asked for your top tips on dealing with annoying telemarketers:

“Tell them you’re on your cell phone and their call is costing you money. They’ll usually apologize and hang up.”

“Some phones allow you to hook up your call display to the TV, so when someone calls, the number flashes up. That way you can screen your calls without even getting up.”

“I just say ‘Thanks for calling, but I’m busy right now. Can I have your home phone number so I can call back when you’re having dinner?’”

Download the Counterscript. It’s a telephone script for consumers that will soon have you grilling the telemarketer on what brand of toothpaste she uses.