Avoiding foul-mouthed telemarketers - AmericaNowNews.com

Avoiding foul-mouthed telemarketers

His name is 'Jason,' assuming that's his real name. Most telecom regulators and investigators believe it's not.

His antics and his employer's scheme have breached 29 states' Do Not Call lists. Their behavior has the Federal Trade Commission on alert.

Their intimidating calls have consumers like Michael Hickerson on edge. "We were getting one to two calls a day (from 'Jason')," says Hickerson, who lives in Tennessee.

The unsolicited calls revealed bizarre numbers on Hickerson's caller ID -- a different area code every time, three zeroes (ex. 314-000-4567) in every prefix.

The caller, identifying himself as 'Jason,' said he represented "Card Member Services of Las Vegas." Acknowledging that Hickerson was recording the conversation, 'Jason' explained his company could lower Hickerson's credit card rate to three percent if he carries a balance of more than $10,000.

Three problems with this scenario:

* There's no record of a "Card Member Services of Las Vegas."

* Hickerson is registered on both the Tennessee and the National Do Not Call lists.

* Hickerson does not carry a credit card.

When Hickerson told "Jason" he didn't have a credit card and the call was an unlawful telemarketing call, that's when the conversation went south, according to its recording:

"Yes, sir, do you pay in cash when you take your sister out?" 'Jason' asked. "Can you, uh, reach your (expletive deleted) to your (expletive deleted) and (expletive deleted) yourself?"

"With language like that and stuff, how were you going to reduce my credit card rate down to that three percent you were talking about?" asked Hickerson.

"I mean, you're too dumb to even understand all that, apparently," 'Jason' replied. "I mean, you are from Tennessee."

Charles Pemberton, an official with the Tennessee Regulatory Authority and manager of the Tennessee Do Not Call List, says the generic "Card Member Services" has been on the radar screens of 29 states' Do Not Call regulators and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Pemberton says manipulating caller ID has been illegal in Tennessee since 1999. In December, President Barack Obama signed legislation making it a federal crime to "spoof" caller ID.

The FTC successfully settled with two Florida-based telemarketers pulling a similar stunt with caller ID "spoofing" and sales pitches about credit card rates (please click here for details of the settlement:  http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2010/12/jpm.shtm).

But unlike the telemarketers investigated in the FTC's case, "Card Member Services" is using caller ID "spoofing" technology so sophisticated, Pemberton says it virtually cannot be traced.

"We just don't have the technology capable to trace them," says Pemberton. "We fall short on technology."

The state's Do Not Call list regulations fall short in stopping these calls, too. Consumers and regulators only have recourse through the Do Not Call list if the offending caller is a registered solicitor on the Do Not Call list.

"Card Member Services" is not a registered solicitor.

When asked what the point is of having a Do Not Call list if it cannot stop these calls, Pemberton answered:

"We have 4.3 million consumers registered on the state list. 356 telemarketers have signed up.  You've got to look at it this way:  if you didn't sign up, you'd have 356 extra calls coming into your house."

The call from 'Jason' to Hickerson's house got uglier. He told Hickerson he had a gun, then recited Hickerson's address accurately. He gave out Hickerson's phone number as his supervisor's number in subsequent solicitations, relaying an avalanche of upset callers from all over the country to Hickerson's home number.

"The two callers I got yesterday said that I was his manager, and I said, 'Oh, how I wish I was his manager,'" Hickerson says.

Hickerson had to change his home phone service to an unlisted number to end the harassment.

Another victim is consumer advocate Paul D. S. Edwards of the Consumer Information Center, Inc., in Las Vegas. Edwards sues telemarketers who violate state and federal Do Not Call laws, as well as the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

'Jason' gave Edwards' number out as his supervisor's number, too.

"There are hundreds of companies doing this and no way to tell them apart," Edwards says. "It's a numbers game."

Tevin Thompson, deputy chief of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority's Consumer Services division, says the TRA received more than 100 complaints from consumers statewide last year who received calls from variations of the generic "Card Member Services."

"We are currently still trying to track these, and the FTC is also aware," says Thompson. 

PROTECT YOURSELF:

* Either drop your land-line phone number for cell service only or switch your land-line to an unlisted number.

* Register both your land-line and your cell numbers on your state's Do Not Call list and on the National Do Not Call Registry (www.donotcall.gov), but understand that telemarketers who do not register with your state's Do Not Call list can still call you.

* Do not answer calls from area codes you do not recognize.

* Watch your caller ID for three zeroes in the prefix (ex. 314-000-4567). That's a sign it's a "spoofed" call from "Card Member Services."

* Report unusual call solicitations to the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) and to your state telecommunications regulators.

Copyright 2011 America Now. All rights reserved.

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