The nice lady was engaged only in taking a "survey," as allowed by law, and would not dream of engaging in sleazy and illegal commercial hucksterism by telephone, so it was plumb cruel to treat her unkindly.
It was the umpteenth "survey" scam in recent weeks, and I'm afraid I drifted away from my usual sweet and lovable disposition, as happens with nearly every telemarketing call, so I'm wracked with guilt.
It probably does not faze them at all; if they had any self-respect, they would not be telemarketers. Still, it's fun to try to hurt their feelings as much as I can until they hang up on me.
I detest all telemarketers, including the legal kind, such as those who spread lies on behalf of political candidates, although I have a nephew who briefly worked as a telemarketer a few years ago. He soon switched to a respectable occupation and thus remains one of my favorite relatives.
Some telemarketers are beyond evil. They knowingly, with malice and greed aforethought, pester innocent people who have specifically requested that the telemarketers leave them in peace.
Anyway, it was reported Saturday in The Morning Call that the 610 area code has the most complaints in Pennsylvania for violations of the federal "Do Not Call" law.
From 2007 through 2001, the story said, the feds received more than 55,000 complaints from the 10 counties that have the 610 area code, and they were lodged by people on the federal "Do Not Call" registry.
The story said one huckster, Forrest S. Baker III, was charged by the Federal Trade Commission with making 16 million calls to numbers on the Do Not Call registry.
I cannot prove it, but I have a feeling that around half of Baker's calls were to me.
The federal Do Not Call registry took effect in 2004, outlawing interstate calls by telemarketing hooligans to consumers who officially stipulated that they do not want to be called. There are exceptions to the ban on calling such people, including charities, surveys, companies with which the consumer has done business and, completely unjustifiably, political organizations.
(There is absolutely nothing in the Bill of Rights that says politicians have more free speech rights than do people engaged in other pursuits.)
The most persistent offenders, however, are commercial enterprises that cannot move their junk on the basis of legitimate market forces, such as demand or unobtrusive advertising. The FTC's registry has 210 million telephone numbers that are made available to telemarketers for a fee. That, to me, sounds like an excellent way for unscrupulous hucksters to get lists of phone numbers to program into their computers so they can call — the law be damned.
"If they do, they're breaking the law," said FTC spokesman Mitch Katz when I asked about that, and he said violators can be fined $16,000 per violation, with 2.3 million complaints in the last fiscal year.
I asked for the total dollar amount in fines, so I could see if there is a real incentive for telemarketers, with 210 million phone numbers in their possession, to behave themselves. He said he'd check, but did not get back to me right away.
I had better luck at the state level. Pennsylvania's Do Not Call law was enacted in 2002, and is very similar in its provisions to the federal measure, with one exception.
Nils Frederiksen, spokesman for the state attorney general's office, said state law provides for 10 percent of a civil fine to be turned over to the person who complained about an illegal telemarketing call. He said Pennsylvania has 2.4 million numbers in its registry, with fines of up to $1,000 per violation, and can target out-of-state establishments "doing business in Pennsylvania."
During the 2010-2011 fiscal year, Frederiksen said, the state had 4,800 complaints, which eventually netted just over $38,000 in fines and about $4,000 of that went to the people who filed the complaints.
Looking at the $38,000 in fines from the perspective of a sleazy telemarketing establishment, it comes to about a penny and a half for each person targeted for illegal calls once the establishment gets its grubby mits on those registry telephone numbers.
That explains a lot, because I am on the Do Not Call registries, for both my home phone and cellphone, but nonetheless get inundated with telemarketing calls on each.
So companies that make millions of calls against the wishes of consumers can pay peanuts in penalties while raking in the loot by ignoring the law and using lists of phone numbers, provided by government, to load their telemarketer computers to bamboozle hordes of rubes.
Maybe the FTC and the state will go after those hooligans in a meaningful way someday. In the meantime, they do not seem too intimidated. So, for now, I'll have to settle for personal insults.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.