How to torment telemarketers

Blasting an air horn, putting the telemarketers on a lengthy hold, boring them with sob stories — readers respond in force to a request for ideas on combating 'Rachel from cardholder services.'

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I almost feel sorry for telemarketers. Almost.

Last week, I solicited advice from readers about the best ways to get telemarketers to stop bugging you, especially robocallers like "Rachel from cardholder services," which the former head of the Federal Trade Commission branded "public enemy No. 1."

Judging from the avalanche of responses I received, I can say with confidence that many of you are not only fed up with these pests, you're more than happy to exact a little revenge in the form of pranks and time-wasting tactics.

Dave Chakraborty of Porter Ranch, for example, likes to sprinkle his responses with phrases in his native language, Bengali.

"The poor telemarketer thinks I speak English with a bad accent and tries hard to understand," he said. "I have also pretended that the telemarketer is a long-lost friend and have tried to engage him or her in a totally off-track conversation."

These are variations on the technique I wrote about last week. Call it the Levitt method.

Texas resident Mark Levitt said in the column that he routinely tries to tie up Rachel telemarketers for as long as possible by repeatedly feeding them bogus credit card numbers. The goal, he said, is to be such a pain in the neck that the marketing firm will remove him from its call list.

"I'm tired of being a victim," Levitt told me. "So I'll do my part to protect myself and also keep the telemarketer busy so he's not calling someone else."

Of the hundreds of emails, tweets and online comments I received in response to Levitt's call to arms, the most common ploy is to see how long a telemarketer can be kept waiting for you to return to the phone.

Hugh Brown of Glendale said he tells the caller he needs to get a pen and paper, and he disappears for a bit. Then he says he needs to get his wallet from the other room and disappears again. Then he says it must be in the car, and so on.

"Never got to the 30-minute mark," Brown said, "but often broke 20."

Ralph Schack of Rancho Palos Verdes tells telemarketers to hold on while he gets his wife. Then he goes about his business. Every so often, he returns to the line and says, "Didn't she pick up?" Then he goes about his business again.

"Eventually they catch on, but some don't," Schack said. "I have even had some call back for a second or even a third time."

Some people use telemarketers as an audience for some nifty improv. Robert Rosenthal of Studio City waits for the caller to ask how he's doing. "My medical problems are endless," he said.

Carol Levin of Woodland Hills also tees off when asked how she's doing.

"Well, actually, not too well," she replies. "You see, my husband ran off with another woman this week, but not before cleaning out all of our bank accounts. My 30-year-old daughter just phoned collect to beg me to bail her out of jail — again. My son has just gotten his 30th tattoo and he lives with me and has not worked for the last five years...."

Rod Reynolds of Los Angeles likes to ask telemarketers a series of questions: Are you alone? Do you have a hairy chest? Can you touch yourself with no one seeing you?

If the caller stays on the line, Reynolds will say that his wife is at her sister's place for the week. "You sound really nice," he'll say. "Would you like to come over after work?"

More often than not, Reynolds said, the telemarketer will hang up around this point.

B.R. Lister said he worked as a police detective in Orange County for 25 years. He advises people to visit a sporting-goods store or boat dealership and pick up an air-horn canister.

When a telemarketer comes on the line, hold the air horn up to the phone and let it rip.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time this will result in them never calling you again," Lister said. "I've not had one person whom I've suggested this idea to tell me that it did not work for them after it was tried."

A number of readers pointed me toward the work of comedian Tom Mabe, who has elevated the torture of telemarketers to an art form. You can find his stuff on YouTube.

If all else fails, you might consider trying a free online service called Nomorobo (as in "no more robo"). It operates like a spam filter for your phone.

If you sign up, all of your calls will go through Nomorobo before reaching your home. If the company's computers tag one as a robocall, it won't get through. But legal robocalls, such as for school closures or doctor's appointments, won't be blocked.

Aaron Foss, the inventor of Nomorobo, won a $25,000 prize from the FTC for coming up with technology that fights robocalls.

"We can't endorse a product," said Mitch Katz, an FTC spokesman, "but this evidently works."

Not nearly as much fun as some of the other suggestions, though.

David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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TV LUST BLOGGERS

Wesley Case is a south Jersey native and a Delaware grad. Since October 2008, I've worked at b, reporting music stories that focus on Baltimore's burgeoning scene and the music outside the city that matters to you. More ...
Jordan Bartel is assistant editor at b and lives in Mount Vernon. More ...

Luke Broadwater covers Baltimore politics for The Sun. More...

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