Turning the tables on a relentless telemarketer

February 6, 2009 7:27:58 PM PST
The Do Not Call Registry has resulted in a big drop in unwanted sales calls, down about 62 percent since 2003. However, 7 On Your Side reports there are still rogue companies out there making illegal telemarketing calls.

If you've been getting those pesky pre-recorded calls from a carpet cleaning company or any other telemarketer, you might understand the extraordinary lengths one man went to in order to find out who was behind the calls he was receiving, and we were there when he found out.

Robert Ricci is on the National Do Not Call Registry, but he keeps getting automated calls from a carpet cleaning company.

"I'd be eating dinner, I'd get these phone calls like, 'Hi, this is Daisy from the carpet cleaning company," said Robert.

The robo-calls from Daisy wouldn't stop. Finally, Robert decided to press one for a live operator. He told that operator to quit calling.

"They hung up on me," said Robert.

And they called again. So Robert pressed one again and demanded to know the name of the company.

"The lady said we're not allowed to divulge that information," said Robert.

The company had blocked its own caller ID, which itself is against the law. Robert wanted to report the company so he decided to play detective.

"I'll do anything to protect my privacy," he said.

The next time he received a call, Robert pressed one and actually made a carpet cleaning appointment, and 7 On Your Side was there when the carpet cleaner arrived.

He came in an unmarked van and marched up with his clipboard. When he got in, Robert got his business card and a phone number, and then demanded answers.

Robert: "Why does your company robo-call people?"

Carpet man: "Call people?"

Robert: "Yeah."

Carpet man: "I don't know. Sorry, I just working. You can ask my boss."

The cleaning man put Robert on the phone with his boss, someone named Mark.

Robert (on phone): "I had the guy come out here because I wanted to try and see if I could get you guys to stop calling me."

Mark refused to give his full name or even the name of his company. Robert asked why the company was making those calls.

"He said because we're having a special right now," said Robert.

Meanwhile, the cleaning man decided not to stick around. The business card he left says only "rug steamer."

We called the phone number and reached Mark. He would not provide 7 On Your Side with his last name. He claimed he was operating out of Texas. We called another number Robert was given when he made the appointment. Mark answered that phone too, but hung up when 7 On Your Side tried to get some answers.

"Unfortunately, if a company is determined to break the law it can be very difficult to determine who these people are and how to get back at them," explained Joe Ridout with Consumer Action.

Rideout says the Federal Trade commission has had a hard time keeping up with all the complaints about telemarketers -- an estimated three million in the past five years.

"Law enforcement against these rogue telemarketers is a lot less than we' would like to see. By not reporting these companies to the FTC or FCC, your chances are much less of seeing them prosecuted or seeing them stopped," said Ridout.

Robert did file a complaint.

"Hopefully something can be done about this... he took off like a scared rat," said Robert.

We've heard from other consumers who say they're getting calls apparently from this same company. But if you don't want to invite them into your home as Robert did (and we recommend that you don't), file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The more who do, the more likely there will eventually be action.

You can file a complaint with FTC at www.donotcall.gov/complaint/complaintcheck.aspx.