Houston: Time for telemarketers to hang it up

It’s fun to make jokes about telemarketers, but for many people, there’s nothing funny about it.

Jason Houston

The National Do Not Call list is just an April Fools’ joke. Nobody enforces it, much less goes after violators. The cell phone companies aid and abet these violators by creating systems where telemarketers can substitute fake, disconnected numbers that will show on their victims’ caller ID screens, thus making tracing these crooks impossible.

Forty years ago, federal legislation was proposed that would ban unsolicited telephone calls, but the industry fought back and it was never passed. Today’s telemarketers are 99.9% frauds, and most of those are from overseas. These crooks use familiar buzz words like Amazon, Marriott Hotels, Walmart, Carnival Cruise Lines, IRS and other widely recognized names to give legitimacy to their scams.

The easiest ones to identify have garbled connections and heavy foreign accents that are nearly impossible to understand, yet people still get sucked in. I get at least four to five such calls a day each on two phones.

One recent gang of scammers, in St. Louis, Missouri, was finally arrested after making several million dollars selling phony auto repair policies. Within weeks after being arrested they were back in business, ripping off more people with the same scam.

Supporters of telemarketing scams argue that honest, non-profit agencies should be allowed to telemarket. The rub is, over the years non-profits have become so aware that people no longer trust telemarketers, they’ve reverted to other forms of begging for money that don’t involve the use of phones.

And what does that leave us? The scammers.

The time for renewed federal legislation is already here. Telephone companies should be banned from making devices where caller ID can be altered. Telemarketing should be a federal offense, punishable by prison time, even for first offenders.

International laws need to be enacted and enforced to prevent scammers, the same way we have laws against treason and other heinous crimes.

And they need to be enforced.

Jason Houston

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