Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
I sued a telemarketer and got $4,000 (impactdialing.com)
346 points by michaelrkn on May 25, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 145 comments

I like this article. I worked in telemarketing for a while, and was probably one of the shittiest jobs I ever had. Not only did the companies not give a crap about the laws, they didn't care about their supposed customers. We sold worthless stuff trying to pursued them into using it over much better and more established companies. Example: AAA tow services.

I found myself trying to be the good guy in the situation and do my best to actually remove people from the call lists by marking them deceased and that.

But even still the companies would always somehow get those numbers back into circulation hoping that nobody would notice.

Shady shit, glad I don't do that anymore.

"Shady shit, glad I don't do that anymore."

But this also proves something. From what you've written you knew you were doing something that was wrong. As one example:

"We sold worthless stuff trying to pursued (sic) them into using it over much better and more established companies"

But you had to earn a living so you did that. Now I don't know what your particular situation was or how badly you needed the job (proverbial relative dying of cancer or you would be homeless?) but it might be the same premise that the people running the business operate under. Everybody of course draws the line at a different point in terms of the "harm" they are willing to do. They feel that what they do is ok or possibly de-minimis but what someone else is doing on a larger scale (a guy who did what you did for 20 years or owned the business) is "bad".

I'm curious (and not being judgmental that you worked there as we all have different lines) why you kept that job when you saw what they were doing?

I was young and like stated, I needed a job and wasn't picky. Not to mention when I started I didn't know what exactly was going on, because I was part of another section that sold the Boston Globe newspaper before moving to the shady side.

I only worked there for 3 months, then I told my boss to go fuck herself and walked out.

Edit: and no offense taken, if you have any questions in regards to what little bit I do know about such a crappy industry let me know. I am somewhat knowledge in it.

Funny enough my current job is at a call center for a GPS company. I don't do any calling though.

It's pretty obvious - he needed to feed & cloth himself. For some, (perhaps you?) there must be some catastrophic event to create day to day money problems. For many people, especially the often young students or mothers who work these jobs, day to day money problems are just a fact of life. Should people plan better so they don't have to compromise and do things they disagree with? Of course, but that isn't everyone's reality.

edit: Or maybe he just wanted money for Spring Break...

I worked in a call center the summer in between high school and college, and the company I worked at was very cognizant of the various laws. This was before the federal no-call list was enacted, but I'm positive they strive for compliance with that as well. If people asked to be taken off the calling list, we had to flag their call as such and if we were caught not doing that, we'd get in trouble. Their were nuances to it though. You had to specifically ask to be taken off the list in order to be scrubbed entirely. If you said "no thank you" and hung up, you were getting called in 24-48 hours without a doubt. If you gave two "no's", you were scrubbed from the campaign, but not the global list.

It was still a terrible and shitty job, but it paid a few bucks better than minimum wage and the company was fairly lax on attendance (I was 17, so I had different priorities and a general lack of responsibility).

The worst day of my two or three months at that job was when I got put on a calling campaign for some mega-church. I felt terrible asking people who probably didn't have the money to donate to give up their money to this organization that was clearly raking in tens of millions a year and whose leader/minister/whatever was a multi-millionaire. Thankfully, I only had to do that one day and had so much motivation not to take in a single dollar, that I failed to land a single donation and was moved the next day to trying to get people to do balance transfers on their credit cards. Still annoying, but at least I didn't feel like I was robbing people by appealing to their faith and handing their money over to some evil creep.

My girlfriend dropped out of school and ended up at a call center cold calling Chamber of Commerce-listed companies/sole-proprietors selling energy (after being told she'd be calling people about hotel vouchers). She quit after three weeks. The script they were supposed to keep to had bogus lines about tax writeoffs you could get (which would be illegal) and most people weren't at all interested.

> Although manually dialing is very rare, many of these regulations do not apply to manually dialing.

Followed by

> I already had three violations on my hand, but I knew I could get two more pretty easily. The next day, I called the alarm company and asked to be put on their internal Do Not Call list, and asked for a copy of their Do Not Call policy. A few days later, David called me again – violation number four.

So he manually dialed, because of previous conversations indicating a genuine interest in the product(s). And that's a violation? Suddenly all interest in and respect for the author just went down the drain as far as I'm concerned.

Hi Corin. I asked to be on their internal DNC list, and several days later, they called me again. That's illegal. Don't you think companies should have to respect your requests to be put on their DNC lists? I mean, if you unsubscribed from an email list and kept getting emails, wouldn't you be upset?

It's not the same as a mailing list at all. It was person-to-person contact between David and yourself. Although it appears that the law was violated when you were called by David, he was simply following up on your interest in his company's products.

Honestly, I feel like you are totally abusing the law in this situation. At the first available opportunity, you should've asked to be placed on their DNC list without expressing false interest in their products. Then you would've been in the right by sueing for the first an all subsequent calls. It seems that you went about this in the most malicious way possible, even going so far as to essentially trick them into violating the law.

How do you suggest he find out who to sue without expressing interest in their product? It's really the company who is abusing the law by not disclosing who they are to avoid retaliation.

That's the thing -- the telemarketing company knew perfectly well they were breaking the law, and thus took pains to hide their own identifying info even when the person did seem interested.

Sure, the fact that the bad guys are "playing dirty" doesn't mean it's moral for the good guys to do the same.

But in this case, simply lying that "that sounds interesting" before telling them he wasn't interested any more doesn't seem too serious. It's certainly not illegal.

He was in the middle of legitimate conversations with you.

You have a product yourself, if I contacted you and implied I was interested in becoming a customer, and we got to talking about it over the phone, would you look up your DNC list every single time before calling me just in case I had, since we last spoke, contacted a colleague of yours to be put on it?

In his post he links to the Code of Federal Regulations. It allows for mistakes to be made by the business.

This is what I read: It says: you can't call someone that says "Don't call me" However, if you have a written policy to try your best and follow the law and generally your business follows the policy, then you are not liable for violating this rule if it was a simple mistake.

So the case of David calling him back a few days later may have been an honest mistake. But the if the business did not have a written policy in place, have training of the policy, maintain a list of DNC numbers, etc. then they are liable for the mistake.

That's how I understand it. So it seems the law is forgiving for businesses that are trying to follow the law. But I am not a lawyer, so my reading comprehension skills are worth very little.

I couldn't have said it better. I believe this business was not trying to follow the law, so I sued them for everything I could. I mentioned in another reply that there was another company who called me illegally, and I found out that they fired the person who set up the calls I got. I didn't sue them.

Well, you just turned this into a demonstration of a typical sue-happy american and their crappy juridical system (a prejudice that a lot of europeans have against america), you should have been thrown of court for that.


That's the entire point of sanitising your lists. When someone asks you to stop calling them you remove their number and stop calling them.

You don't understand how salesmen work at all, and I'm not talking about them being shady, I'm just talking about general business practices.

Lists of names/numbers are for cold-calling, and yes, cold-calling should check any opt-outs first.

Once you are actually having conversations with a specific person about an actual sale, lists are no longer part of the equation. There's not a salesman in the world who, if asked by a customer to call them back (as happened in this case) would check a list before calling them back. It just wouldn't happen, ever. And frankly it shouldn't be expected to happen, the only time it would ever be useful to check a list is the very rare occurrence where the customer is trying to catch you out by telling you he's interested but he actually isn't.

The software that telemarketers use should make this automatic. You have a list of calls to make, during a call you can hit DNC which removes them from your any everyone else's queue. There's another button to add a call back at a future date. If the customer is on the DNC list it won't show up as a callback or will at least very clearly show that you shouldn't call them.


> Five9 helps you comply with this legislation by letting you upload your company's supplemental Do Not Call list, which prevents these numbers from being dialed by your outbound and autodialer campaigns, and even manual calls placed by agents. In addition, you can automatically track requests for Do Not Call from inbound return calls, and enable agents to fulfill callers' requests to be placed on the Do Not Call list in real-time.

It's easy stuff if you're trying to be legit. There are a lot of companies that don't make that effort.

But once you get past cold calling and into actual back and forth, the conversations don't go through telesales lists or software. At that point you're no longer doing telesales, you're discussing options with a client, albeit a client who hss yet to make their first purchase.

Not in the situations I've seen, but perhaps this situation was different. I really doubt it though. Each "sales person" is in a cube with a headset on and an auto dialer either getting calls transferred (like in the OPs case after answering some questions) or making outbound calls from a pool or the call back / appt list. It's integrated with a CRM so that everyone can be tracked and the audio of the calls are recorded. The conversations are scripted and the agent reads what's on the screen while answering any questions with other prompts.

It's not like he got in touch with a sales guy who was going to take him to dinner. He just got to a human at a telemarketing company. They are just cogs in a larger machine.

If someone says 'don't call me', can't the salesperson then just delete their phone number?

He was waiting for a call back from one salesperson, and said "don't call me" to a different salesperson.

That doesn't matter in telemarketing. They're all working on the same autodialer and CRM.

They should. If the customer is no longer interested, and expressed it clearly by asking to be placed to DNC list, they should respect it. There's a lot of software out there that makes it as easy as clicking one button, or even easier - you open your CRM software and see big red "ASKED TO BE PLACED ON DNC" all over the record, and you know it didn't work out, time to move on. Of course, some salesmen may ignore that hoping they can persuade the client to reconsider, but then that's where $500 comes into play.

Didn't he state his preference was for him to call the salesman back and the salesman insisted he be the one to call?

That's semantics about what happens, doesn't change the overall situation. Reword to "the salesman said he would call back and the customer didn't ask him not to but instead said it was fine".

I think you are willing to give a lot of latitude to the sales person here. I think it is true that it is human psychology to trust a relationship that is established, but we would prefer a world where rules still have to apply, no matter what. Right?

It is so much better if this incident sets a standard for their company and the telemarketers are forced to validate each time irrespective of their past association with the callers.

I don't think I am giving him latitude, if your job was selling to people and a customer had expressed interest in your product and had agreed to wait for you to call back would you in a million years stop to think "maybe he was lying to me, when he said he wanted to call me another type he wasn't telling the truth, I'd better check the database to see if he doesn't want me to call"?

Other than random, unexpected cases of people trying to trick you, any customer in the world would, if they changed their mind about being interested, wait for the call back and say it then, not contact someone else at the company to be put on a do not call list.

What you are saying is correct, in that what happened in this case was kinda gamed to mislead. One reason where I think the calling company stepped the line was, someone else calling him back when he did not return their call.

I would hope that companies do more due diligence when a customer is not calling back. Maybe the customer changed their minds. The problem with telemarketers is that they don't care about what customers are thinking and so someone else went ahead and called him.

What I would prefer is (and this is where I think I don't want to give any inch of room for the sales person) is that they constantly have to be aware of what the customer's latest situation is. I would prefer all telemarketers get trained this way and not intrude. Don't you think this is better?

I unsubscribe from email occasionally, and every once in a while it'll say something along the lines of: "You will be opt'd out of our list within 1-2 weeks."

When I receive another email I just delete it. I'd rather go on with my day and do productive things then getting all bent of of shape about it.

BUT! I agree some telephone marketing campaigns can be down right harassing. But 4 calls over 2 months? I would have just sent them to voicemail and deleted them without listening. To each his own, I suppose.

My understanding of the law is that if they have established a business relationship with you (you express interest in their product), that "relationship" lasts for (I believe) 30 days, during which they can call you freely. Asking to be put on their DNC list should cut off your relationship, but I think had they gone to court they would have had a solid defense that you expressed interest in their product, and you would have likely won nothing.

Doesn't that assume that he wanted the relationship in the first place? He tried getting on their do not call list originally. By my count that makes any further relationships null and void as one party was acting in poor faith (IANAL no idea what the legal term might be).

Basically the fact that they called him without reason and avoided providing their actual contact information would seem to make a judge question the relationship they might have.

One probably-very-relevant thing you aren't addressing -- the "business relationship" started with a very clearly illegal cold call to a Do-Not-Call listed mobile phone number.

I also suspect that the company actively breaking the law as part of their business model must know something about the laws they're tangling with, and they settled with him for $4K rather than actually to go to small claims court over $7500.

I don't understand why people are voting this guy down. That certainly wasn't a violation, ethically at least. You told him to call you back!

In general, comments with negative scores will get at least a few upvotes, and comments with high scores will get at least a few downvotes, so when a comment is young it's easy to see it voted the opposite direction it will end up on once more people have seen it.

So thanks for the concern, but plenty of the oh-so-valuable karma points heading my way by now, just a couple of people who disagreed right at the start!

Urgh, I hate Karma on HN. I'd much prefer to see other people's comment scores than not see them. And I'd much prefer not to see my own than see them. What irony.

I too felt that he gamed it to his advantage and if we want to filter it through an ethical lens, it might not pass.

But then, I started to think about what is the whole point of his exercise? If it was to make money out of this, then it comes off as sleazy. I would like to believe his idea was to actually "give it to them" rather than make money out of them (at least to begin with).

Anyway, I think what matters to me is, if this is THE ONLY WAY to ensure I can both get out of their pesky calls as well as rub it to them by taking some money out of them, I might do it too. End of the day, I feel there has to be an end to the kind of crap telemarketers do and if this is one way to weed them out, so be it.

I think you just totally missed the point.

Either explain how/why, or just leave a downvote rather than a comment that says nothing.

Great, but the main problem is to find out who is calling you. I wish the phone company had some kind of obligation to give me that information, so I could trace back annoying telemarketing calls. Stringing them along until they reveal who they work for just doesn't work well.

Another idea would be for banks to offer special credit card numbers, that get automatically flagged as bogus purchases. Any bank offering such a service? If I ever use the magic number, the transaction is perceived to go through, but it's actually tracked and no money is exchanged. Not sure if it's doable with respect to Visa and Mastercard networks.

> Another idea would be for banks to offer special credit card numbers, that get automatically flagged as bogus purchases. Any bank offering such a service? If I ever use the magic number, the transaction is perceived to go through, but it's actually tracked and no money is exchanged. Not sure if it's doable with respect to Visa and Mastercard networks.

A credit card that allows you to make purchases but never transfers any money? I'm not sure you've quite thought that through.

Actually, why not... My bank knows me. I'm a good customer. 10+ years of banking with them, not one credit card issue. Thousands of dollars on my bank account. When i use this bogus credit card number for $20 to track a spammer, I think my bank could trust me that I'm not just trying to buy something for free.

Are there other use cases you can think of aside from tracking spammers that would incent your bank to invest in the overhead to maintain special/bogus card #s? (And what about bogus card #s used against legitimate vendors that get cheated out of money owed to them?)

Thanks to Voice over IP, this is pretty much impossible to regulate any more. The telephone networks were built on a trust model that VoIP destroyed. Now, you can originate a call on the internet that's nearly impossible to trace.

>you can originate a call on the internet that's nearly impossible to trace. //

Why do the phone networks route calls with faked originator numbers. I can see why they don't block genuine numbers (that terminate at an actual phone) -- to get you to pay for blocking. But surely they can tell that an incoming call from a foreign call centre with a local number is fake.

Recently I've had calls, in the UK, from numbers where the [given] originating number doesn't exist. Why any phone company would route these is beyond me. (They're faked because we're signed up to do-not-call lists and they don't want to be sued). More to the point is why the regulators (OFCOM) let the phone companies get away with routing such calls.

Phone numbers are not necessarily symmetric. A given number might legitimately place a call via someone else's network. For instance, think about roaming. You're calling with your local number, via another country's network. So, it's not a super simple problem to solve everywhere.

Roaming doesn't work quite like that. My cell phone is associated with a "home switch" (HS) (based on the provider and cell phone number [1]). When roaming, my cell phone associates with a switch and becomes a visitor to that switch (VS). The VS will inform the HS that it will handle my calls.

Now, when you call me, the HS gets "the call". It then contacts the VS. The VS will assign a temporary phone number to my cell, and send this number back to the HS. The HS then sends this number back to the switch making the call. That switch will then call the temporary number, hitting the VS. The VS sees that number and since it assigned that number to my cell, knows to "ring" my cell phone.

And that's just for cell phones. That doesn't cover call forwarding, for instance.

[1] Number portability adds another layer of indirection to this.

The current caller ID system is incredibly broken- I'm getting 3 calls a day to my personal cell phone from the same scammers and have not been able to get their real contact info. After watching all these TV shows with the 'hang up within 10secs or you'll be traced!' I expected AT&T to be able to help me out. No dice.

Unfortunately the phone #'s are always random and AT&T just wants to sell me a service that allows me to block up to 30 phone numbers. But they're calling from more than 30.

If you don't mind throwing more of your data to Google, you can port your number to google voice and block as many numbers as you like. It even has spam filtering for calls.

I have my business line on GV and it filters out hundreds of spam calls.

This is one area which would be good for the government to get into. They have the resources to actually follow up and do something about it. Create a number of fake residential numbers, publish them in the phone book, add them to the do not call list, publish them on websites, and so on. Then watch for the calls to come in. They could do the fake credit card thing and prosecute the offenders to hell and back. It'd be self-funding too.

Business Idea:

Instead of the government doing this (and being self-funded), why not do it commercially? Just set up thousands of personal phone numbers (honeypots) and just wait for the calls to roll in.

Naturally issues like tracking down the callers and filing mass lawsuits would generate problems the startup would have to overcome, but you'd be at an advantage because you'd have plenty of data at your disposal. Eventually you'd learn more about the branch of law that deals with these infractions and how different jurisdictions handle the cases.

What are the ethical side effects?

1. If your business became large enough, and it became a realistic outcome that telemarketers who use illegal tactics would have to pay damages like the 4k one in this article, the ROI for telemarketing may decrease to the point that it's not used any more.

Can I register my business phone number or a fax number?

The National Do Not Call Registry is only for personal phone numbers. Business-to-business calls and faxes are not covered by the National Do Not Call Registry.

You could try a more complicated approach: sell consumers a device which records their calls locally, and sign them up to the do-not-call list. The device would have a spam button; when pressed it would send the caller id + recording of call to your company's servers. The company would use this to help the customer threaten or sue telemarketers, splitting settlement/lawsuit revenue.

This would be illegal in many states, but you could restrict it to states with one-person consent to record conversations.

Some credit cards have "virtual numbers" that you can use for shopping online. You set the limit that can be charged on the numbers and you're notified if someone charges over the limit to the virtual number. (citi credit cards)

I like the credit card idea.

(Edit: please ignore the following line, I misread. Kept for posterity.)

The title is incorrect. He threatened to sue but didn't actually do it. Which I'm all for.


I received, just yesterday, a call from a company claiming they could reduce my credit card interest rate to "up to 0%", but it was obviously a scam as he said he worked both for Visa and Mastercard, claiming it was "the same company and they both use the same Reduce Interest Rate department". I unfortunately lost my nerve a little and called him out, after which he became much more familiar, aggressive and even insulting. Don't have anything beyond a phone number and a name (which is probably fake). Wish I could find the nerve to do this myself.

He most certainly sued:

> I wrote back giving them the dates and caller IDs of the calls, and when I didn’t hear back in a week, I filed my suit.

He just settled out of court before appearing in front of a judge.

> Wish I could find the nerve to do this myself.

Why don't you? What do you have to lose, aside the time trying to track them down?

Oh I misread that as "I threated to sue if I didn't hear back in a week". Oops, sorry, my bad.

As for trying it myself, I guess it's simply because whenever I get into such a situation, I lose my nerve, butterflies invade my stomach, and I can't think straight. Just calling Visa to try to report it gave me the same kind of jitters, I really hate it.

I will, however, report the information I have in my possession to my local police department. That way perhaps I'll lead them to something, if I'm lucky. Nervous or not, I can try to do my part.

The best place to report illegal calls is http://esupport.fcc.gov/complaints.htm. Your local police department probably won't have any idea what to do with the complaint. Good luck!

I doubt the local police department will care. Why not think of this as a way to practice not being nervous?

I got a call that went something like this:

Them: hi I'm blahblah and I'm calling about your credit card

Me: is this about one of my existing cards?

Them: yes

Me: which one?

Them: all of them

Me: click

I had that problem constantly with the auto warranty calls that were so common a few years ago (until the FTC or FCC finally got them).

They couldn't tell me which of my cars the warranty was up on, and would get nervous and hang up.

Of course, since I don't technically own a car, it was a trick question any way.

"I believe that, done right, telemarketing is an effective, appreciated way to get people services they want, deliver important political messages, and raise money for non-profits"

This make anyone else cringe?

Absolutely. There is no "right" way to perpetrate telemarketing. The only difference between this creep and the slime that he sued was that this guy is careful to adhere to the technical minutiae of laws that seem to have been partly written by the telemarketing industry themselves. This was just a sordid story of one antisocial jerk using the courts to extract money from a less savvy antisocial jerk.

I especially like his use of "appreciated". I'm sure I appreciate getting a recorded call telling me whom I should vote for.

I disagree, it depends on the telemarketing, though I do agree that the vast majority is terrible, and that anything using an automated dialer is terrible.

Colleagues of mine in sales sometimes telemarket - in that they will cold call potential customers, but only people they have researched and genuinely think might want to advertise with us, and the track record of a.) people called who end up spending money with us and b.) of those people, the ones who are happy and become repeat customers, does show that in this situation telesales works great for both us and them.

On the other side of good telemarketing, I'm in a position to get plenty of cold calls / cold emails myself, business related, and it's not rare for me to get one that genuinely interests me, and sometimes leads to me spending money with them and getting good results from it. So I don't mind getting those calls/emails.

Outside of business I find them horrific, I've never had a good cold-call to my home landline or my mobile, presumably because for non-business sales it isn't worth doing any research into who I am and whether I'm a valid target.

(But yes, I agree with your judgement in this particular instance.)

Here's an example of what I think is telemarketing done right. We have a client that's a roofing company. They scout areas that have seen a lot of damage from storms, note the houses with roofing damage, and look up their phone numbers. They call the residents, explain how their home insurance companies usually cover most of the cost of the roof repair, and offer to schedule a time to take a closer look at the roof and give an estimate.

I think it's mostly about targeting - don't just call tons of people with no reason, but focus on particular people who have a high likelihood of becoming a customer. Then call them with salespeople who know the industry, be helpful and courteous, and take people off your list who don't want to be called. And, of course, follow the law.

Unfortunately, there's so much bad telemarketing that the good stuff has gotten drowned out, so it's easy to see it all as bad.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where so many people can't tell the difference between right and wrong that I get annoying calls from roofing companies. Here's a clue for you: just because something might not be against the law and might be profitable doesn't mean that it is civil behavior. People like you create the annoyances are the bad side of all our modern, convenient technology. You know very well that those people already know their roofs are damaged and know how to use a telephone to call the roofer that they want to call when it is convenient for them to do so. But you are willing to harass 20 people who don't want to hear from you so that you can hit that one old lady who will swallow your pitch and hire you (or your "client") rather than comparison shop and research reputations.

There is no "good" telemarketing that gets "drowned out." What you are doing is wrong.

The first call after he goes on the DNC is clearly a violation.

The calls thereafter, when he's stringing them along...not so sure. Once you start saying "I'm interested, tell me more"...I think the company has a fairly solid claim of having a business relationship...if not legally, certainly ethically.

In my opinion, the fact that there's no way to figure out who is calling you and hold them accountable without stringing them along makes this an ethical thing to do.

Yeah I think it sort of puts it in the hands of the judge at that point (I am talking about a small claims court).

I would be interesting to find out what would have happened in court.

Even with the most business-sympathetic judge, he should at least allow for the first couple of calls to be admitted as violations because in those cases he clearly did not have any semblance of a business relationship with them.

The most consumer-sympathetic judge would allow all calls to be counted against the company as the person did explicitly ask to be put on the DNL. He expresses an initial interest but then decided he didn't want anything to do with the company.

That's why I didn't sue for any of the calls after I talked to a rep - only the automated calls, and the call that came after I asked to be on the DNC list.

I read there were some calls inbetween that he didn't count. After that, he asked to be put on their Do Not Call list, and they still called a few more times. So violations for the first few and the last few.

What about the very first call? That's certainly a violation as well.

I agree that 1 or more calls were improper. And threatening to sue for that and getting money is fine. Maybe it doesn't matter that the last X calls weren't if the first Y calls were...still seemed worth pointing it out.

Maybe this is true. But I'm glad HN has a feature that lets us mark a story so that it becomes a nofollow link no matter how many points it has.

I don't see a rel="nofollow" attribute on the link to the original post, or a meta tag in the page header(?). (Logged in or not.)

Oops, there was a bug in that code that I just fixed.

Could you elaborate? I thought the story was somewhat in the hacker spirit in that it exploited the oft-overlooked option of retaliating against spammers.

pg is doubting if this story is true, and thinks it might be a nice "stick it to the man" story. Since it's linked here it might be a SEO attempt to get a higher Google ranking for words like "telemarketer".

It would be nice if the author had laid out some examples of how telemarketing can be done correctly, without breaking any laws and risking this sort of response.

Hopefully we will see a followup post that explains how Impact Dialing gets away with it, but I suspect that they benefit from all the fear and uncertainty.

It's pretty simple. For calling residential numbers for marketing purposes:

1) Subscribe to the federal and state Do-Not-Call lists for each state you're going to call people in. Don't call anyone on those lists unless you have a business relationship with them. It's legal for Comcast to call you to upsell you to a better package if you're a Comcast customer, even if you're on the federal DNC list.

2) Keep a copy of your Do-Not-Call policy on file to provide to callers if they ask for it.

3) If a caller asks to be put on your Do-Not-Call list, do so and don't call them again.

4) Don't spoof your caller ID as anything but your business or the business you're calling on behalf of.

I could've easily missed something, but that's the gist of what I got from reading the federal telemarketing acts. There's also lots of technical details on performance thresholds for predictive dialers and such, so that you don't get too many of those calls where you pick up and nobody is on the other end as the autodialer was too aggressive.

Very well put.

Hi Sentient. We actually mainly work with political campaigns, which are exempt from the regulations. I don't think we benefit from the uncertainty; it makes it difficult to explain to potential customers what is and isn't legal, and we turn away clients sometimes because they aren't familiar enough with the laws to know what's legal and what's not.

Political robocall campaigns are absolutely NOT exempt in every state.

It's kind of odd that you'd make the initial post about how people need to do robocalls right and then you make a blanket statement how political campaigns are exempt.

You're right about robocalls, but we primarily deal in live phone calls, dialed by a computer but connected to a live person ("predictive dialing" or "power dialing"). These calls are almost always legal for political campaigns.

Does that smell like manipulation of the statute to benefit the politicians at the expense of the voters to everyone else or just me?

If the populus don't want unsolicited calls when did the politicians decide that they should over rule them and what's the protection against this sort of action happening in more serious situations?

> Does that smell like manipulation of the statute

That's called business.

What sorts of policies and practices, if any, do you have in place to prevent your company or clients from engaging in the kind of behavior that you yourself found so personally objectionable that you sued for it?

Our Terms of Service require that customers be familiar with the relevant laws, abide by them, and take full responsibility for obeying them. Because we're a pretty small company, I also personally know all of our clients and talk with them about what they're doing. If it seems like they might be about to violate the law, we talk it through. This has only happened a couple times, but I have switched off somebody's account because I thought they were violating the law, despite the fact that they've taken full responsibility for compliance.

I'd really like to make this work if I could, but I suspect it's impossible in my specific case: all the robocalls I get are scam calls, trying to sell me credit-score services which presumably don't exist. Is it likely that I can get a company name out of them, or that there is even a company to sue?

(And since they are criminals anyway, they have no incentive to settle with me, since even if I win I'd never be able to collect.)

There's actually a decent chance it's a real company. I once got a call for insurance that I was sure was a scam, but after playing them along for several calls, I found out it was a legit company. I talked to their CEO, who was very nice, found out their company name, and then explained to him that I could sue him for several thousand dollars. He apologized, said it was an outside firm that they had been working with, and said they had stopped working with that company because of complaints. I didn't sue them.

Oh how I would love to do this. Unfortunately a place selling home security seems relatively easy to find who is calling. Not that it actually is easy - in fact it seems it required a good amount of social engineering.

The calls I have gotten are for credit reduction or other dubious services and the impression I get is that their whole operation is shady and secretive - and perhaps not even a legitimate business at all. When one of those wakes me up at 8am on a Sunday I thirst for their blood!

Well done. Now I want to explore Canadian law on the matter.

Keep us posted!

Yay! I hate telemarketing calls.

There are 3 I tend to get. 2 of them are from places that I clearly did give my number too, one of which is a non-profit I've asked to stop calling me and the other is a car company that keeps trying to get me to trade in my car. The third is something in spanish that starts off with "felicitations, eres el ganador ..." which is where I hang up every time. Fortunately those have become rare lately. All are to my personal cell phone.

I'm glad to hear someone did something in one case.

My grandpa has long had the habit of shoving junk mail into the business reply envelopes for other junk mail. Hilarious, but I'm not quite that mean. But my grandpa used to work for the USPS, so maybe it's his way of supporting his old employer. :-)

I think the problem with the car trade-in and the Spanish call (I've heard it is a content sign-up type of thing) is that it's possible they're not even legit businesses. I'm guessing it's going to be really tough, if not impossible to find out the owner, let alone sue them and get any money.

I would LOVE to do that, though.

>But first, you might wonder why this post is on the blog for a company that sells telemarketing software. //

I assume to boost backlinks. What's more link-baity than a telemarketer mouthing off about telemarketers?

I recorded a voice mail suited specifically for telemarketers. It's basically me faking a call and some interest to keep them busy ("Hello, yes... yes... ah-a.... umh...") and ending with "sorry mate you were talking to a voice mail, now would you like to leave a serious message?".

I did it because I gave up trying to opt-out of every company calling me. The point is to irk them by keeping them on the phone (they are paid mainly by commissions so every second wasted counts) to the point they will flag me as a 'time-waster' and not call anymore.

It works surprisingly well.

Please make your company's logo link to your company's home page, rather than the blog. Alternatively, please provide an (obvious) link to the home page elsewhere on the blog.

That was a great read. Not even telemarketers like telemarketers.

I really want to go after these stupid bastards who keep calling to offer me a credit card balance transfer. I can't track them down, though. Anyone had any luck with that?

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but none of this (do not call list, TCPA) applies to a business phone line, correct?

I get constant sleazy robocalls on a business line.

Correct. Business phone lines (generally) exist to get unsolicited phone calls from people with whom the owner has no existing business relationship.

It might be true that business owners are more willing to receive business calls... but I assure you that nobody wants these robocalls for obvious scams.

Bravo impactdialing.com this is a brilliant SEO play and will no doubt get you lots of backlinks related to telemarketing!

I don't know, the part about faking interest in order to get their contact info seems kind of like stooping down to their level. I don't think I could bring myself to do that. I might get on their do not call list and tell them straightforward that I am thinking of suing them if they don't stop calling me.

The whole point of faking interest was to figure out who they were, so he could sue them for the first violation and any other violation that occurred after placement on the DNC list.

And if it went any way towards discouraging even one company from robodialling random numbers, I'm all for it.

I did that (faking interest to get their info) once and they harassed me for weeks. If you don't intend to take them to court, I wouldn't recommend it.

What OP did sounds like entrapment to me. There's no way of knowing whether they would have continued to call him had he not egged them on, yet he can still sue for each count. I think that's unfair.

Downvote? Nice. I guess HNers don't realize that stealing from criminals is no more honorable than stealing from anyone else.

He only sued for the first few times (before he tried to get their information) and the last few times (after he asked not to be called again).

Profitable, commendable, and a fine example to us all, but BORING!!!!!

Before I go on, yes, I do have way too much time on my hands, and a hugely immature area in my brain.

I like to go for creative abuse. Immediately I start arguing and generally giving them a hard time, winding up to virtual verbal abuse until....

...two things happen. They hang up, and never call back. Bonus: I feel better for getting some stuff off my chest. Dirt cheap therapy which they pay for!!!! Triple win. Yay!!!!

Dunno what its like in the US but here in the UK it seems that these people are not allowed to hang up. Big no no, from what I can tell. So, a great game is to time how quickly you can get them to hang up, or how long they can last out.

Should I grow up and generally get some sort of life? Yeah, probably.

Not sure about verbal abuse... I try to stay polite however annoying they might be.

I've tried to countersell stuff, just for fun. "listen, glad you called, coincidentally I have this great 6 yr old laptop, which you might be interested in. It's only £239.99. What do you think? I accept paypal..."

Once I got transfered to a "team lead", who prommised to think about it and call back. He never did...

Instead of wasting my time I use MrNumber app (http://mrnumber.com) to block unwanted calls and texts.

I'm going to have to make a note of this to get the telemarketer that keeps calling my cellphone (my only phone) about cruises.

"Now, I actually hope that telemarketers call me – it’s easy money."

Did he just opt-in on his own website?

My favorite feature of Google Voice is the "block caller" button. Works like a charm.

I am sure these people are smarter than just using a single number. They can just use random number every time.

You could for example have a white-list but that's won't quite work for most people.

They could use a random number every time, but they don't. If they start doing that, I'll enable Google Voice's feature that requires an unknown caller to say their name before the phone call is accepted.

That's pretty cool. Actually my friend implemented a feature on his home phone (he is old school) that had a recording answering the phone and it said, if you are human press "8". If they did then the actual phone would ring, otherwise I guess I just hung up or just kept them on the line. So he screened all the pre-recorded crap.

I don't live in USA so the question might sound stupid. Are there 100% automated calls coming from marketers? What are they saying... do they just tell you about a product or..?


"We are calling to talk about your car. Do you know that you can get a lower car insurance in your state. There is some new law that lets you blah...blah...blah. Press 1 if you would like to sign up."


"Do you know Obama is from Mars. He has an Alien living inside of him and telling him what to do. Do not vote for Obama"

This is very common for political campaigns as those are also except from some laws that a design to stop these.

The solution to this is to put these people in prison. Phone harassment (and telemarketing is harrasement) is theft of attention and that ought to be as illegal as any other kind of theft.

Prison should be for violent crimes.

This kind of thing should be settled in civil court - as it is.

If I take your car, do you sue me or call the cops?

violent: acting with or characterized by uncontrolled, strong, rough force

violence: an unjust or unwarranted exertion of force or power, as against rights or laws

I would say some would label stealing a car as a violent action. But of course different people's definition will vary.

Great. I am getting calls from one company every day twice. I called them and asked them to stop calling. They said sure done. But the calls have not stopped. I am inspired by your post.

I used to have this same problem. I'd get called twice a day by the same company, and if I picked up, they would just hang up the phone. Eventually I got tired of this so when I picked up one of their calls, I opened with "Hi, PizzaPizza here, may I take your order please?" After that they never called again.

nice. I will try that next time :)

Do you answer twice a day?

(I would think even scammers stop wasting time on people that are not likely customers)

No I do no answer and usually ignore. But they still keep calling. I think it could be an automated robo call ?

I'm sure it is some sort of automated system. I'm wondering if answering a call and saying no would get your number out of the system.

like this. i was bothered by a caller so much that I had to switch my phone to a new number. yes I'm on the do-not-call list, but the calling company, or more likely some agent it contracts, does not care. the company is named italkBB and i was also getting calls from dish network for months after i ended the contract with them. there is Dell too, after i bought laptop from it i started t o get calls from them, I told them I'm not interested in their calls, but once a while i still get the call, guess it's because i was a customer?

If it is a legit call, ask to be put on their courtesy do not call list.

It is fairly non confrontational (especially to the voice on the line) and a very direct signal that you are a dead lead.

Also, when cancelling a subscription service tell them the reason why you're cancelling is because you're moving overseas.

When I did that in the UK (when I was moving overseas, as it happens) I found that it was a really effective way of bypassing all the usual retention nonsense and, i'd presume, any follow-up calls. If you're moving out of their service area, there's literally nothing they can do to keep you on their service.

The OP can probably clarify, but I would imagine in the case of Dish network they were allowed to call you because they had a business relationship with you as a prior customer. The same with Dell as once you purchased the laptop they had an existing relationship.

I'm not sure what the precedence is for internal DNC lists v. national DNC registry v. existing business relationships though, so they may still be at some legal fault.

Main culprits in this nonsense are the phone companies who profit off it at their customers' expense. It's basically like cable tv where you're expected to pay to watch commercials.

So you want the Phone Companies to get involved in policing the content of the calls that are made?

When you order a phone line, should the Phone Company put you through a detailed and exhaustive screening process mandated by their lawyers because they've been sued for the contents of calls that some of their customers have made? Should they then be allowed to monitor your calls for violations of their AUP? I mean, if they're responsible for the content of your calls then they need to be able to monitor them, right?

No, I completely disagree with you. Phone Companies aren't responsible for how their communication channels are abused any more than road builders are responsible for the getaway of bank robbers who use roads.

Cable Companies' are a little different. Mainly because they tend to be the carrier of the content, the creator of the content, and the beneficiary of both. This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that in many areas they have a government-enforced monopoly on the biggest data pipe into our homes.

With email, I get to decide if I want to read it or not. With the phone I don't get to decide if I want to let it ring or not.

The real issue is that phones were ever allowed to ring in the first place. They should all just leave a message which should then be stored until a I chose to listen to it. Then in the future, calls from that number could be allowed.

In addition the phone company could allow you to preunblock certain numbers, such as those from your schools and hospitals.

No I was thinking more non-batshit insane measures.

For starters they could let you block calls from unknown numbers.

Indeed, they could require some sort of licensing for numbers/entities originating large volumes of calls.

They could also disallow caller id blocking.

But the reality is abusive telemarketing tactics are a substantial revenue stream for them, so they dont give a shit.

"For starters they could let you block calls from unknown numbers." They do but you have to call them for this.

>So you want the Phone Companies to get involved in policing the content of the calls that are made?

I don't think it's beyond the pale to suggest that phone companies don't allow scammers on their network. Look what happens to ISPs who allow spambots. And there's no policing of content required, merely responding to valid third party reports.

What you suggest is absolutely unnecessary. Merely requiring an identifiable contact is enough to prevent this sort of behavior -- and this was how things were before voip opened things up to untraceable abuse.

The phone company doesn't need to police anything -- they just need to identify the endpoints of a call when a subpoena is issued.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact