The Back Road: Turning the tables on the telemarketers

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Andrew Malekoff

There was a brief period of time when I came to believe that I would no longer be pestered by unwanted calls from telemarketers and the like. The relief hasn’t lasted very long though, as they have continued to insinuate themselves, unabated, into my everyday life.

Although I am almost exclusively a Smartphone user, my landline rings day and night with calls from people who I don’t know. Caller ID helps. I ignore bogus calls. If I’m not sure and I pick up, it only takes listening to a few syllables for me to determine whether or not to hang up.

I have tried blocking callers and notifying the “do not call” registry, but neither method is foolproof. I understand that phone spammers use a spoof app that hides their actual number from your caller ID. Consequently, when they call and I block the number, I’m blocking a number that does not exist.

Back in the 1990s, I developed what I then believed to be a novel approach to addressing this chronic problem. I dubbed it “turning the tables on the telemarketers.” I’ll explain.

The aim of telemarketers is to keep you on the line for as long as it takes them to make a pitch and sale. It could be for a carpet cleaning, the promise of a low-interest credit card or a sunny spot in a cemetery.

I decided that rather than become aggravated with each call, I would flip the script and do whatever I could to make the telemarketer want to get off the phone with me. In time, I welcomed their calls.

An easy place to start is at the very beginning of a cheery pitch which typically begins this way: “Hello Andrew, how are you doing today?” To which I respond with news of a sudden illness that has left me partially paralyzed or a recent dog bite that has resulted in a festering wound, or a simple case of food poisoning that has me running to the bathroom all day and night.

The possibilities are endless. It throws them off their plan and opens the door for even more sad and nauseatingly graphic descriptions of said maladies.

When a carpet cleaning service calls, I might ask if they can get blood out of my carpeting. Naturally, this leads to details about how the blood got on my carpet in the first place. Explanations can range from a head-first slip-and-fall into a glass coffee table; to a gruesome Thanksgiving dinner turkey carving accident; to a violent confrontation with an unstable neighbor.

Assuming the role of a parolee forced to wear an electronic ankle bracelet is one of my favorites. This tactic comes in handy when telemarketers try to entice me with a special gift. The gift might be minor league baseball tickets, for example, which would require me to travel outside of the square mile area which is a condition of my parole.

I then press the telemarketer to call my parole officer and vouch for me so I can make the trip to the baseball game.

When they politely decline, I lecture them about the stigma that people like me face, “when civilians like you don’t give us a fair shake after we’ve paid our debt to society.” Depending on the telemarketer I might add, “after all it was only manslaughter, not murder.”

Another favorite tactic is to ask a telemarketer where they are calling from, in which case it might go like this: “Oh, you live in New Mexico? What a coincidence! I have plans to travel there in a few weeks. Would it be okay if I stayed at your place for a few days so I can save a few bucks for sightseeing?”

Whatever the scenario, it’s always fun hearing them try to squirm out of the sale and get off the phone. You ought to try turning the tables on the telemarketers. It just might make your day.

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