September 28, 2012
Like many people, Marlys Burke was thrilled when federal authorities unveiled a "do-not-call list" in 2003. She signed up immediately in hopes of keeping telemarketers at bay.
Nearly a decade later, how are things going?
"Not good," said Burke, 78, of Gardena. "In the last year, I've been getting more and more of these calls, sometimes one after another."
She's not alone. I've been hearing from numerous people in recent months saying that telemarketers seem to have shrugged off any qualms they may have had about violating the do-not-call list, a.k.a. the National Do Not Call Registry.
And the official stats back up that perception, particularly where so-called robocalls are concerned.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, monthly complaints about robocalls more than tripled to about 212,000 in April from 65,000 in October 2010.
General complaints about telemarketers bothering people more than doubled to 182,000 from 71,000 during the same period.
"The do-not-call list is working," insisted Roberto Anguizola, the FTC's assistant director of marketing practices. "But we're definitely seeing more and more robocalls."
About a year ago, I wrote about the rise of Rachel. If you've gotten a "Rachel" call — and you probably have — you know what I'm talking about.
The typical Rachel call begins with a recording of Rachel from "card member services" informing you that you might be able to lower your credit-card interest rate by pressing 1.
Doing so will connect you with a live agent who will probably request your credit card number and Social Security number. This can lead to, at best, a lousy new card deal or, at worst, some major identity theft.
Informing the agent that you're on the do-not-call list or telling him to stop bugging you will usually result in the telemarketer quickly hanging up the phone. Until the next Rachel call.
"These calls are the No. 1 complaint getter, by a wide margin," Anguizola said. "Not only are they illegal, but in most cases they're hawking a scam."
When I first delved into the Rachel calls, I was able to link them to an Arizona company called Ambrosia Web Design. Using state records, I managed to determine that the company was operating out of a house in Mesa.
If I could track down the source of the problem, I asked Anguizola, why can't the FTC?
"It's not that easy," he replied. "Because the Rachel calls were so persuasive and effective, lots of other telemarketers started doing the same thing."
So Rachel is now everywhere, as are "Shirley" and "Ann," a couple of other names I've been hearing from readers in recent weeks.
"You can track down one source of the calls," Anguizola said, "but there are likely hundreds of others now using the same type of recording."
Complicating things, many robocalls now originate overseas, where the long arm of U.S. law isn't quite as muscular.
"We'll work with law-enforcement partners wherever we can," Anguizola said. "But it can be difficult."
So what's to be done? The FTC is hot for new technology that's already been tried out on "American Idol." To prevent "Idol" watchers from using robocall technology to cast multiple phone votes for their favorites, telecom companies have come up with filters that can recognize and block automated calls.
Anguizola said the same technology may soon be applied to keeping Rachel & Co. out of our lives.
Still, keep sending complaints to the FTC every time a telemarketer disturbs your peace. The feds say the do-not-call-list is working and is helping block millions of unwanted solicitations, but they still need to know when and where telemarketers break the law.
In other words, drop a line any time Rachel rings.
Wells Fargo mortgage customers may have seen a pitch with their monthly bill for the bank's Preferred Payment Plan. It allows you to speed up payments by breaking them into weekly or biweekly allotments.
But there's a catch. The mailer says that "partial payments will not be applied to your mortgage until the full payment is received." What's that mean?
It means Wells will hold your money in a custodial account until you reach the full monthly amount. While it's in the account, Wells can do whatever it wants with it, such as invest the cash in an interest-bearing fund. And it gets to keep any gains.
It turns out the bank also cuts itself in for an “internal credit” of one-hundredth of a percent of any cash in the custodial account.
So let's say you owe $1,000 a month on your mortgage and decide to break it into two monthly payments of $500 each. The first $500 would be up for grabs by Wells until the next payment comes in. The bank would also claim 5 cents for that internal credit.
That might not sound like much, but Wells is the country's largest servicer of residential mortgages, handling about a third of all home loans.
The bank won't say how many customers have signed up for its Preferred Payment Plan, but it's likely we're talking about millions of dollars in “internal credits” and investment gains.
“This is a good thing for customers who may want a tool to help them manage monthly mortgage expenditures,” said Diana Rodriguez, a Wells Fargo spokeswoman.
A pretty good thing also for Wells.
David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send tips or feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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