Fighting Telemarketers: When Do-Not-Call List Fails, These Strategies Work

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The service is offered free to consumers. Foss makes money by charging commercial users a fee based on their call volume. Ironically, he said, call centers for legitimate businesses -- say, ones selling flowers through an 800 number -- get hit by robocallers the same way consumers do. They can't afford to have their lines tied up by automated calls, so they turn to Foss' company for relief.

David Lazarus, columnist for the L.A. Times, advocates a far more personal, more low-tech approach to stopping unwanted calls, which he calls "a little kooky but effective."

The idea was suggested to him by a Texas reader who pretends to respond enthusiastically to phone solicitors. "Tell me more," he says when the pitchman comes on the line. "Give me all the details." From that point on, the Texan's only goal is to keep the pitchman on the line as long as possible.

Asked to give a credit card number, the Texas man gives a false one, then relaxes while the pitchman attempts to confirm it. When it cannot be confirmed, he transposes a few digits, re-submits it, and rests again while the pitchman struggles to confirm the second number. Eventually the Texan, when through toying with his victim, invites the telemarketer to call again the next day, so they can try again.

Robocalls rise: How to fight back

In a later column, Lazarus, who calls this strategy a "reverse scam," invited readers to submit more strategies for making the lives of telemarketers a living hell.

A man in Glendale, Calif., submitted his strategy, which involves telling a pitchmen that he needs to get a pen and paper, then disappears for a bit. When he returns, he says he needs to get his wallet from the other room. Gosh, he says when he returns, that darn wallet must be in the car. Can you hold on a minute while I get it? And so on. He says with pride that while he's never gotten to the 30-minute mark with a telemarketer, he's often broken 20.

Telemarketers, notes Lazarus, are not fools. They don't want to waste their time any more than do consumers. After realizing they've been tricked into sticking with a fruitless call, they don't want to make the same mistake again. So, they stop calling, he said.

Consumers seeking further inspiration how they can prank telemarketers can find on YouTube in videos posted by comedian Tom Mabe, who has made a science of it.

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