Phoning Home

While the 'Do Not Call' list has been a success, some illegal telemarketing calls still go through

After the 2003 initiation of the federal "Do Not Call" registry, the sounds of serene silence descended upon tens of millions of American households.

According to almost 80 percent of national survey respondents, it is one government program that really seems to work, since folks are receiving far fewer intrusive telemarketing calls.

But there are still some companies disturbing people who have requested to be left alone by telemarketers. One of those continuing to call numbers on the "Do Not Call" list is Alaskan Quality Services, also known as Alaskan Air Conditioning and Heating.

While Alaskan Quality Services has offices in Las Vegas and Tucson, the Tempe-based firm's telemarketers only telephone from there. The callers are paid $7 an hour, and receive a $100 bonus for working two weeks without missing a day.

In the last four months, solicitors for the company have contacted people on the "Do Not Call" list in Tucson at least twice--including me--trying to peddle the business. When asked why they continue to call people on the registry, Alaskan Quality Services spokeswoman Lisa Antone quickly blamed the problem on others.

"We got bad leads from our source (of phone numbers)," Antone states. "We're talking to them about that." She also admits the company, which promotes itself as family-owned and operated, has received a few complaints about contacting people on the registry.

At the same time, she indicated she would remove my number from their phone list if I gave it to her.

Problems like this, according to David Robbins, program manager for the Federal Trade Commission's "Do Not Call" registry, are the exception, not the rule.

"We have over 100 million telephone numbers listed," he says from his Washington, D.C., office. More than 2 million of those telephone numbers are in Arizona. "We've had 1 million total complaints since the program began in October 2003, so we think compliance has been very high."

When someone does complain about a possible violation, Robbins indicates the information is used to focus his and other agencies' enforcement efforts. He stresses that receiving complaints about potential violations is essential.

"It's critically important (to us) to point out who the bad guys are," Robbins says.

At the same time, he emphasizes, his office doesn't reveal which alleged violations it is looking at. "We don't want to advertise who we're targeting."

Since implementation of the "Do Not Call" registry, Robbins says the FTC has taken action against 13 telemarketers. Because it shares the complaints with other enforcement agencies, such as the Federal Communications Commission and various state organizations, they may also have pursued additional complaints.

For each individual violation of the registry, a telemarketing operation can be fined up to $11,000. Based on that, earlier this year, one company agreed to pay more than $500,000 in penalties for breaking the law.

To avoid this type of legal problem, Robbins says, telemarketers can subscribe to an FTC Web site which lists phone numbers on the "Do Not Call" list. The first five area codes are free, and after that, each one is minimally priced, but apparently Alaskan Quality Services, or their source for telephone numbers, couldn't afford to pay $116 to cover the seven total area codes in Arizona and Nevada.

Some phone solicitations, of course, are exempt from the rules. These include politicians, survey takers and charitable organizations. Companies the phone call recipient has had a business relationship with are also immune.

Because of the impending regulations, two years ago, there were dire predictions about what the "Do Not Call" registry might do to some of Tucson's telemarketing businesses. In at least one specific case, those projections proved to be unfounded.

Back in 2003, a representative of ThermalGard of Arizona thought the list would hurt the business and put up to 10 people out of work (See "Hung Up," May 29, 2003). But according to Trent Lavin, the company has not been adversely affected.

"At the beginning," he says, "everybody thought it would hurt us. But it really hasn't hindered our business that much."

Lavin says his company no longer makes cold calls, nor does it contact people on the list. Despite that, he says, there are still plenty of phone numbers to call.

Surrounded by about 50 people, mostly senior citizens, making phone calls from his Champion Resorts call center on East Broadway Boulevard, Scott Shaw agrees with that assessment.

"We're doing business the same way we did two years ago," Shaw says. "You just pay to scrub the list (of "Do Not Call" phone numbers) of those you call."

Hopefully, telemarketing companies like Alaskan Quality Services will get the same message.

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