My mother, it seemed, had made a lot of friends since her retirement. The extent of her new-found "friends" didnt become apparent until after Mom had passed away. I moved into her house in order to help prepare it for the impending sale and to sort out her affairs. Daily, from the time I arrived at the house until going to bed, the phone would ring with someone offering a new magazine subscription, a trip to Cancun or some new product for senior citizens. Mom had purchased two vacuum cleaners, an electronic adjustable bed and more than $400 in magazine subscriptions for everything from Womans Day to Outdoor Life in this way. Some of the magazines, I am sure, had been sold to her by telling her that her sons "would love to read these when they come to visit."
Salesmanship is an art. In most instances, with moral and ethical salesmen, it is an art which is used for the benefit of both parties. However, in the hands of an unethical firm, it can be used to extort finances from people who cannot afford the product. By coercing my mother into excessive magazine subscriptions, these people could have essentially talked her into giving up vital medical treatment, groceries or clothing. Telemarketers prey upon the lonely, the polite and those who are not business-savvy.
The recent fight over the Do-Not-Call List heightens my awareness of how blind our courts have become to their purpose. It is not the duty of the court system to protect the unethical entrepreneur. It is the purpose of the court system to protect the people from being preyed upon, and to protect my right to defend myself and my family from physical, emotional and economic harm. The courts have failed these objectives miserably in the case of the Do-Not-Call List.
We are guaranteed by law to privacy within our homes, as well as freedom to use the telephones we are paying for to conduct our own legal business. The Federal Communi-cations Commission saw that telemarketers were assaulting our right to privacy and freedom. Thus, the FCC attempted to protect and defend the public with the Do-Not-Call list. However, the courts decided that neither the FCC nor the public have the authority to interfere with these unethical business firms. Millions of citizens signed up for the list, and yet a federal judge denied our basic right to privacy while arranging for us to endure unwanted intrusion. The debate should have been short-lived but evidently is going to continue. Americans are using the wrong battle tactics; we need to change strategies.
Since telemarketers want to do business, we should treat them as a business. They want to use my time and equipment. Let us sign up with our phone companies to allow them to include, on our monthly bill, the amount of time we spend speaking to each of these firms. Then we can send each of them a bill for the use of our time and equipment. I would be more than happy to let them extol the virtues of their product if I know that they are paying me 50 cents a minute to do so. Just think of the possibilities this would open.
Senior citizens might make a small career out of listening to telemarketers. BellSouth might even develop software to make it possible for them to submit your bill to the telemarketers for you, opening a new business for the phone companies. Having trouble getting your teenage daughter or son off the phone? Make their talent worthwhile by appointing them the administrator of your household telemarketing business. Theyll get business experience; youll get paid for every minute they talk. In short, lets make this vehement intrusion into our lives benefit us, not the sleazy businessman.
Perhaps it is time that the American citizens speak to these firms in the only language they seem to understand. Who knows? If my plan works, we might even have a Please-Call list instead of a Do-Not-Call list.
(Dennis Jones is a Martinez resident.)
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