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August 2009 | Volume 28 / Number 3

Short Message Service (SMS)

Tougher Actions To Save Telemarketing

By Brendan B. Read,
Senior Contributing Editor

Here we go again...there has been a spate of stories on telemarketing abuse that will inevitably lead to calls for more legislation and restrictions on telemarketing.

The culprits are all too roughly familiar. They include skels misusing automated dialers to connive money out of consumers, including those with cell numbers and who have gone to the trouble to place their numbers on Do Not Call (DNC) lists. They also include legitimate and often well-known outfits and their managers who through overaggressiveness or carelessness have been calling consumers who are on the DNC registries.

I won´t name the firms here. They know who they are and can be looked up on

These continuing instances call to question the assertion by businesses and business organizations that self-regulation is the complete answer. Not when anyone can buy a dialer, and hire/put together a telemarketing operation. What is the worst a self-regulatory program can do? Throw out a member of the sponsoring organization? Sue them for dues?

The American Teleservices Association (ATA) devised 11 years ago, TeleWatch, a program aimed at creating a 'mark' for ethical telemarketers, hoping that will it will have a similar effect of creating trust as the 'UL' for Underwriters Laboratories and 'CSA' for Canadian Standards Association on appliances. Yet despite the fanfare, the backing of leading teleservices firms, and supportive publicity from the trade media(including this writer) TeleWatch quickly died. The reason, one longtime industry professional told me: "Many of the ATA members did not like being told what to do."

Canada has had one of the most effective, stringent, and thorough self-regulatory programs there is, organized and conducted by the Canadian Marketing Association. Yet even Canada has had to strengthen telemarketing laws, including creating a national DNC.

This is not to say that self-regulation doesn´t have value. Any means that trade organizations can devise to ensure that their members stay within the laws and adopt best practices are 'five wins' for consumers/customers, companies, the industries, regulators i.e. smaller caseloads, and taxpayers. The ATA´s Self-Regulatory Organization is to be commended for that reason.

Unfortunately existing laws and regulations do not seem stringent enough to get the attention of enough shady and legitimate marketers alike. They are de facto civil matters slaps on the wrist. A fine here, some bad publicity there--‘the costs of doing business´--is the attitude that too many outfits have.

The risk is that lawmakers may get fed up enough to make telemarketing opt-in, ban all marketing calls to wireless devices, extend that to charities (leaving political purposes alone, of course), and outlaw autodialers for any reason.

There is another more effective option and that is to vigorously criminally prosecute these issues for what they are harassment and trespassing. For without that that specter even banning telemarketing would have little effect.

Making individuals realize that they could be trading their blue business suits for hot pink jumpsuits and Rolexes for electronic monitoring devices would get their attention faster than any blather from the alphabet soup of federal and state agencies. It sends the message that these acts aren't being tolerated, and the consequences are unfunny. Having a criminal record, even if the penalties are minimal and the debt has been paid, will make life in this post 9-11 age from a getting a job or a client to running a red light or leaving or entering the country an ordeal for those found guilty and for their dependents.

The same actions should be extended to ´e-crimes´ creating botnets, phishing, and spamming. The harm created by electronically breaking-and-entering into victims´ computers is equal if not more damaging than the traditional ‘pick/smash/grab ´, and the perps merit the same if not greater stays in the crowbar hotels.

Delivering a stern message is the surest means to protect and improve the image of telemarketing (and electronic commerce) as legitimate business practices. By doing so consumers will once again won´t mind when businesses and nonprofits contact them, which will preserve the jobs of the consumers who are contacting or managing the contacts.

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