The fool-proof way to thwart telemarketers

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 3, 2001

Everyone hates a telemarketer.

Saturday, November 03, 2001

Everyone hates a telemarketer. On the &uot;hated totem pole&uot; that also includes lawyers, politicians, used car salesmen and journalists, those poor telemarketers are way down there on the bottom, squatting in the mud.

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I must admit that like just about everyone, I don’t like it when some putz (who usually gets my name wrong) calls to sell me credit-card protection or to tell me I’ve been &uot;selected as a preferred customer.&uot; A preferred customer, you say? Funny how paying your bills late all the time gets you on the preferred customer list.

The cliche about telemarketers is that they call during dinner time. Well, they do sometimes, but really, I’m just as annoyed if they call any time – snack time, dessert time, or even non-eating time.

There are a few established strategies for dealing with these people.

First, you could actually just buy the thing and shut the person up. This is a highly unattractive course of action, because if I actually wanted the darned thing, I’d be calling them, not waiting for them to call me.

Another strategy is to humor them, listen to their spiel, then tell them you’re not interested. This doesn’t work because they always have a scripted answer to your objections. If you say you aren’t interested, they give you some other selling point to try to hook you. If you say you can’t afford it, they tell you about how it will actually save you money, or how you can buy now and pay later. They’ve got a comeback for most anything you could say.

If you want to skip all of that, you could just hang up on them. I don’t quite have the audacity to do that, but many people no doubt find this an effective way to deal with a phone salesman.

Plus, despite my annoyance, I have a kind of empathy for telemarketers. I have known people who did that difficult job, and just like most lawyers and journalists, they’re people too, just trying to eke out a living in this crazy world. So I feel bad about giving them the bum’s rush.

However, I think I have found a solution that works out for everybody involved: When a telemarketer calls, I act like I’m insane.

Here’s an example:

Telemarketer: &uot;Hello, Mr. Baldwin, I’d like to tell you about our preferred-customer credit-protection policy …&uot;

Me: &uot;I can see through walls.&uot;

Telemarketer: &uot;Excuse me?&uot;

Me: &uot;I have X-Ray vision.&uot;

Telemarketer: OK … Well, thanks for your time.

This is the perfect solution because: A) There is no scripted response for that; B) It’s fun for me because I get to act insane; and C) I figure it gives the telemarketer an interesting experience. They can tell their families or their telemarketing coworkers about the really crazy guy they called today. If I were a telemarketer, I’d find it funny.

I have been employing this technique whenever an unwanted telemarketer calls, and it’s fool-proof, I tell you. I told one credit-card salesman I can’t have credit cards because plastic makes me gassy. No scripted response for that one, no sir! I told someone selling credit protection (to pay off your card in case you die or something) that I didn’t need credit protection because I was invincible. She got a laugh out of that one, and she decided to try the next name on her list.

I should really get paid for these great ideas of mine.

Dylan Belden is the Tribune’s managing editor. His column appears Sundays.