Phone Phonies

I don't like telephone solicitors. I more or less take the position that if you're calling total strangers and trying to get them to buy your product, your product is crap and you're a person or company of low ethics. I'm sure that's not always the case but it's true enough.

Lately, I've received an average of two calls a day from contractors — outfits that want to give me a free estimate on painting or repairing my home. I have no need of any such services and if I did, I have a perfectly fine contractor who could handle that for me. And if I didn't have a contractor, I'd call trusted friends (or other businessfolks who've worked for me) and get a referral. I wouldn't gamble on a company that came at me over the phone like that.

Often, the person on the phone starts this business relationship they hope to have with me by lying. They say, "We're doing a couple of jobs out there on…" and they mention the name of my street, which they obviously got from the same source that gave them my number. I say, "Really? Where on my street are you? Can I go by and talk to the neighbor for whom you're working?" And somehow, they know they're working on my street but they aren't sure where. The guy on the phone this morning said, "I don't know…my partner's handling those jobs." Uh-huh.

Or they lie about where they got my number. I ask and they come back with "Uh, one of your neighbors told us you needed some work done." No, none of my neighbors told them that. They bought a list from a company…and some of the solicitors sound kinda pissed at that company when I inform them that (a) I have never been in need of their services and (b) if I were, I would have picked one of the thirty or forty contractors who bought the same list and has already called me.

The most honest of these calls I've received was from a woman who phoned about a week ago. I shall now attempt to replicate the text of that call, starting with the moment when she answered my question about where she got my number…

HER: This company I work for gave it to me. They give me these lists and I make calls and try to get business for them.

ME: Do you have any connection to this contractor you're trying to get me to hire?

HER: None at all. The people I work for also have me calling for some health club I've never heard of and for a company that sells office supplies. Do you need either of those?

ME: Nope. How many calls a week do you make?

HER: Hundreds. I've been doing it for about four weeks. I work out of my house. They e-mail me these lists and a little speech to give and I have about a dozen replies here to questions people are likely to ask, and if I make a sale, I get a commission. The ad I answered said I could make a thousand dollars a week but so far…

ME: Not working out, huh?

HER: Well, I found five or six people who are taking a free trial offer for the gym. No one yet for the contractor or the office supply place. But I don't get my commission on the people who get the free trial unless they go beyond that and pay money to sign up. If they all do, I might make about a hundred bucks.

ME: Maybe you ought to spend your days making hundreds of calls trying to find a real job.

HER: I did. The best I could do was this.

I also spoke to some solicitors who could tell me (and were willing to tell me) where they got my number. They all said it was through a company called DataQuick and they gave me an 800 number to call and be removed from that firm's database. I called the number and got a recorded announcement that said, "Your call cannot be answered at this time. Please call again." Isn't that handy?

The other day, someone who wants to be my contractor called…and I think this was actually a guy who paints and pounds nails himself, not someone working on commission. He was very unhappy when I told him I was not a possible customer and that so many others had phoned before him. He told me he got my number from DataQuick and he gave me a different number to call for removal. It turned out to be the company's main number in San Diego. I called it and one of the options offered by their robotic receptionist was to press 3 and be connected to their Consumer Privacy Hotline. I pressed three and heard a familiar recorded voice tell me, "Your call cannot be answered at this time. Please call again."

I called back and chose to speak to a sales representative for DataQuick. I got a fellow who checked and swore my name was not in their database and they had not sold it to anyone. A portion of that call went like this…

ME: Gee, why do you think four or five different contractors told me they got my number from your company? Were they all lying to me?

HIM: They had to be. Phone solicitors do that all the time. I'll tell you, I've gotten calls at home from solicitors who tell me they got my number from DataQuick and I tell them, "No, you didn't. I work for DataQuick and I know my number is not in our database."

The fellow gave me the number to call and complain to the "Do Not Call" registry (with which I have long been listed) but all I can do with that is complain about individual contractors. None of them are calling a second time…and I kinda feel like they're victims in this, as well. There's no option to complain about DataQuick, which I assume will swear I'm not in their database. In any case, it sounds like one of those long, frustrating situations where you wind up deciding that the cure is more trouble than the disease. With some problems, all you can do is bitch about it on your blog.