A call for telemarketers to dial up due diligence

Fund-raising industry takes undue advantage of our generosity


As long as we have telephones, we will continue to have intrusions in our lives by telemarketers. This time of year, telemarketers get in high gear. In so doing, they set aside all semblance of decorum and civility.

Despite federal law that prohibits telemarketers from calling phone numbers that are on the federal do-not-call registry, the relentless intrusion continues. There are penalties for violating the law, but tenacious telemarketers would rather pay fines than stop the practice.

The tactics and pitch have changed with time, but the main objective remains to intrude on our privacy to make a sale or to solicit money.

“Rachel” wants to help us solve our credit card woes by offering yet another credit card. “John” wants to send us an emergency alert system, the kind you wear around your neck, for free.

Hucksters exploit our religious or ethnic affiliations to sell their wares. The most frequent are peddlers of long-distance telephone services, Scriptural recordings, and adult religious education videos.

They pick Muslim-sounding names from local telephone books and appeal to our ethnic or religious sensibilities and sensitivities. These hucksters are tenacious and will not take no for an answer.

They talk in a heavy Indo-Pakistani accent and are argumentative. They do not hesitate to send you on a guilt trip for not wanting to call your dear ones on the other side of the world for only pennies.

Those who sell religious material or services sprinkle their pitch with Arabic religious phrases. When I tell these callers that I do not speak Arabic, they are surprised and occasionally condescending. In their ignorant zeal, they do not know that Arabs constitute only 15 percent of Muslims worldwide.

Raising money for charities routinely invades our privacy. The solicitors are also not beyond using false and fictitious information to entice us.

I received a rather friendly call on my cell phone recently from a lady who said she was with an organization that helps visually handicapped people in our area. She thanked me for my past volunteer work for the organization.

When I said that I had never volunteered for that organization and perhaps she was calling the wrong person, she hung up.

Another scam sends out personalized form letters. This year, a reputable local charity sent me what appeared to be a personal letter to thank me for sending my staff to its recent conference. The charity asked for a donation.

I wrote to the chief executive officer to say I did no such thing. To her credit, she apologized. She said that the charity had drawn information from its database, and that obviously the letter was sent to people who should not have received it. I have a simpler explanation: lack of professionalism.

Americans are some of the most generous people in the world. It is a shame that the fund-raising industry takes undue advantage of our generosity to enrich itself.

Only a small fraction of money raised by professional fund-raisers in the name of charity goes to the charity, often just 10 to 40 percent.

When we get calls on behalf of injured veterans, disabled children, or Christmas baskets for the needy, we should ask about the percentage of the money collected that actually goes to the charity.

Such tactics, whether robocalls from “Rachel” or “John,” or deceptive letters of solicitation from otherwise respected organizations, or calls from ethnic or religious hucksters, leave an unpleasant aftertaste. If telemarketers would do a bit of homework before calling or writing, it would go a long way to engender goodwill. But that requires diligence, and diligence takes time, and time is money.

I often have wondered about making telemarketers pay for the privilege of talking to us. But I don’t think the Federal Communications Commission would have the time to oversee such a change, just as it has little time to rein in the $20 billion telemarketing industry.

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.

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