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Kevin Hunt - The Bottom Line
The Bottom Line
5:45 PM EDT, July 12, 2012
Rachel might be the most famous name in robocall history.
Laury and Bill Shustack know this automated telemarketer well. She still calls their Manchester home, repeatedly. For those who haven't met Rachel, we'll let Laury Shustack handle the introduction.
"Just in case you are the only American who hasn't received a stream of these calls," she says, "it starts out, 'Hello, I'm Rachel from account services' and goes on to say my account is fine but urgent they talk to me immediately. Tells me to press 9."
That's when the charming, but robotic, Rachel passes off the consumer to a human telemarketer who might talk about reducing credit-card interest rates or maybe buying an extend auto warranty. All they really want, though, is personal information like a credit card or Social Security number.
Two years ago, a federal court at the request of the Federal Trade Commission stopped a robocall operation headquartered outside Los Angeles that allegedly made more than 370 million calls in the previous year. On a single day in 2009, a telephone service provider told the FTC, the company made 2.4 million calls, or more than 27 a second.
The calls from Rachel, or sometimes her colleague Stacey, were robocalls using a technology known as voice broadcasting. It worked exactly like the 2012 Rachel: Once the robo-sales pitch was delivered, any consumer who pressed the requested number was shuttled to an actual human who then made a sales pitch for fraudulent services.
That company, SBN Peripherals, is long gone but Rachel and her friends from account services, or cardholder services, are still making calls. (Robocallers must have a good sense of humor.) The Shustacks, however, want Rachel out of their lives.
So does the Rev. Scott Morrow, pastor at the North Haven Congregational Church. He can't even remember the exact names by now, but he's trying to remember the numbers. They've called him from at least four different numbers, the latest last week on his home phone. They've also called his cellphone.
"I don't even answer the phone," he says. "One time I stayed on the line and asked to have my number taken off. But even if you talk to them and say you're not interested or, in my case, they say you don't qualify, it doesn't stop."
Morrow actually talked to a telemarketer once about reducing his credit-card interest rate. He remembers telling them which bank he uses, but nothing more except his credit-card debt.
"At the time," he says, "there was nothing that really raised an alarm with me, though I could tell they weren't connected with my bank."
Since Sept. 1, 2009, the only legal robocalls are those consumers permit, in writing. (Political robocalls, surveys and charity-related calls are allowed.) Yet the outlaw robocallers never stop dialing. They'll call land lines and cellphones, any phone you own. They call using different phone numbers, disguise their identity on caller ID and disregard the National Do Not Call Registry, the federal service designed to stop telemarketing scams.
Scammers are so brazen that the registry warned consumers earlier this year about phony callers claiming to represent the Do Not Call Registry. Advice: Do Not Respond!
In the past week, the FTC has released two educational videos about robocalls. It also has new web page (1.usa.gov/RWCw9X) devoted to robocalls. It's still worth registering for do-not-call protection by visiting http://www.donotcall.gov or dialing 1-888-382-1222 from the phone you wish to register.
"Calls from people identifying themselves as cardholder services are inherently deceptive," says Howard Schwartz of the Better Business Bureau. "In some cases, they will try to use fear tactics or arm-twisting to get consumers to sign up for their services."
Here's how Schwartz says you should respond to such a call: "What credit-card company or bank are you with?"
Usually, he says, the telemarketer will hang up. Or you can just hang up. Unfortunately, it probably won't stop the calls.
The day before The Bottom Line called, Morrow received another robocall on his home phone — this one listed a Florida exchange — saying yet again that, good news, he had qualified for a reduced interest rate and, not surprisingly, it was being offered for a limited time. Press 1 to find out more.
Not this time.
"It was the same thing," he says.
Laury Shustack hoped the power of the federal government's Do Not Call Registry would be enough to stop Rachel. So far, Rachel looks robo-invincible.
"I've asked for the name and address of the company as I was reporting them to Donotcall.gov," says Shustack. "The fellow hung up on me. Old Rachel keeps calling."
Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant