Letter: What Will It Take to Get Companies Not to Call?

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On. Jan. 11, I attended a public forum at the Federal Trade Commission convened to address telemarketing abuses, an exasperating issue for many consumers. At the forum, Robert Sherman, legal counsel for the Direct Marketing Association, and other telemarketing industry panelists suggested that consumer complaints directed at telemarketers who violated state and federal do-not-call laws were taken "seriously."

This struck a sensitive chord with me because, like many consumers, I have been the victim of telemarketing abuses from a variety of companies, including most recently MCI Worldcom, probably one of the DMA's largest members. My problem with MCI began in April 1998, when I told the company not to solicit me again. It nonetheless violated my request and called again and yet again. I attempted to communicate with the long-distance giant but was ignored, so I filed suit under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. I fully expected to be able to prove my case because my state, like most others, permits its residents to tape-record calls from telemarketers. What I didn't expect was another call from an MCI telemarketer a few weeks later! At that point, when the company offered me $5,000 to settle the suit out of court, I refused because it also wanted me to sign a provision that would forbid me from sharing the mere existence of the complaint with anyone else. As it stands, the suit is still pending in court.

During the FTC forum, I addressed the panelists and members of the audience, which included a representative from MCI. I described my unpleasant experiences with Sears and other telemarketers and revealed the fact that I had a lawsuit pending against MCI for telemarketing violations. The lawsuit had been mentioned the month before when I was featured in People magazine's 25 Most Intriguing People issue, as well as in an interview I gave to Court TV a week before the FTC forum. Newspaper and television reporters in my hometown of Wheeling, WV, also mentioned it on several occasions that same month. A short time after the forum, I put my complaints about MCI in writing, thinking that perhaps I could add my name to any list that the DMA might be compiling. To this date, the only action I am aware of that the DMA has taken was to write a letter to MCI restating my complaints.

Considering the extraordinary amount of exposure the suit has received, you'd think I'd be the last person on earth anyone from MCI would want to call. You can well imagine my shock and surprise when not quite a month after the forum I picked up my phone to find myself speaking to yet another MCI telemarketer.

At this point, it should be clear to everyone that MCI has significant telemarketing problems. A number of people from various states who learned of the MCI lawsuit from some of the extensive media coverage that it received called me to share what they considered to be their own harassment at the hands of MCI telemarketers. Further, documents I obtained from the FCC reveal others besides myself have complained about MCI's telemarketing practices.

At this point, it is anyone's guess how many complaints or lawsuits it will take to convince the DMA, the Federal Communications Commission or the FTC to act on consumer complaints about telemarketing abuses. Perhaps a judgment against MCI in my upcoming lawsuit will motivate such an action. At any rate, it's ridiculous that I'd have to go to such an extreme just to be able to sit down to dinner with my husband and three boys - uninterrupted by telemarketing calls!

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