It's hard to believe Frank Dorman works for a government agency. The guy had the nerve to give a simple, one-word answer to a simple question.
The question: "Were all cell phone numbers released to telemarketing companies on Sept. 8?"
Gotta love the guy.
Dorman is a spokesman for the Federal Trade Commission. The story - bogus, as it turns out - making the rounds about cell phone numbers being released to telemarketers has been on the Internet at least since February. (Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler said that "the rumor has been around for years.") The tall tale has been circulated by one persistent e-mail that simply won't die.
One of those e-mails found its way into my mailbox Sept. 6. The sender claimed to have sent it from City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke. It read:
"FYI: Just a reminder ... On Sept. 8, all cell phone numbers are being released to telemarketing companies, and you will start to receive sales calls. YOU WILL BE CHARGED FOR THESE CALLS. ... To prevent this, call the following number from your cell phone: 888-382-1222."
Dorman said the FTC's news release of Feb. 6 is as true today as it was seven months ago.
"Contrary to the e-mail," the news release reads, "cell phone numbers are NOT being released to telemarketers, and you will NOT soon be getting telemarketing calls on your cell phone. ... Federal Communications Commission regulations prohibit telemarketers from using automated dialers to call cell phone numbers. Automated dialers are standard in the industry, so most telemarketers are barred from calling consumers on their cell phones without their consent. ... There is only ONE [Do Not Call] Registry. There is no separate registry for cell phones."
Dorman said this particular cyberspace legend "has been going on for some time. [The] e-mail has been circulating in various forms. We have no idea who's doing this or why."
The problem with the e-mail, Dorman said, is that it does contain some factual information: 1-888-382-1222 is the number for the national Do Not Call Registry. I called the number myself, plugged in my cell phone number and was promptly informed that said number had been added to the Do Not Call Registry. I didn't cause myself any problems by registering my cell phone, but it was a waste of time.
Clarke confirmed that she sent the e-mail after she received one with the false information, but she did call the number first.
"I didn't know it was such a scam," Clarke said. "I called the number, and it sounded legitimate to me. It sounded all very legitimate."
Clarke said she was motivated by what usually motivates her: concern for her constituents.
"I was being a little too motherly that day," Clarke conceded. "Mother was overworking that day."
Some of the recipients of her e-mail must have sniffed out the scam immediately. Clarke said they responded with the question: "Are you kidding?" Clarke said she answered, "It's not like I sent you a virus."
The moral of this story is that some e-mails can be downright wrong, and the information in them should be thoroughly checked. But there are other e-mails that have information that just might be downright useful. Consider this one from a guy named Raymond Vaughn:
"We all carry our mobile phones with names and numbers stored in [the] memory but nobody, other than ourselves, knows which of these numbers belong to our closest family or friends. If we were to be involved in an accident or were taken ill, the people attending us would have our mobile phone but wouldn't know who to call. Yes, there are hundreds of numbers stored but which one is the contact person in case of an emergency?
"Hence this 'ICE' (In Case of Emergency) campaign. The concept of 'ICE' is catching on quickly. It is a method of contact during emergency situations. ... All you need to do is store the number of a contact person or persons who should be contacted during emergencies under the name 'ICE.'"
I have to admit, I never would have thought of this. Whenever I'm asked who should be contacted in the event of an emergency, my answer is usually "a darned good physician." I figure no one else - not my wife, my mommy, my siblings, my three cats-a-meowing - will be able to help me.
But when I stop being a wiseguy, I concede I do need emergency contacts. My wife and primary care doctor are listed as emergency contacts on my medical alert card - with diabetes and congestive heart failure, I have to hedge my bets when it comes to my health - but adding an ICE number to my cell phone memory won't do any harm.
The idea didn't start with Vaughn - he said he got the news about "ICE" from other e-mailers - but it's sound advice, no matter who thought of it.