AOL Offers Telemarketing Call-Zapping Service

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AOL dial-up Internet users have the option of blocking telemarketing calls that come while they're online by using a service that tries to trick predictive dialers into thinking their line is disconnected, AOL announced yesterday.

AOL customers who use AOL Call Alert or AOL Voice Mail -- services that alert them to incoming calls while they are online -- now have access to a telemarketing-reducer feature, AOL said. It works similarly to the Telezapper privacy device, letting the user emit a three-tone signal that mimics the signal heard when a disconnected number is dialed.

Many predictive dialers listen for the tone to weed disconnected numbers from calling lists. However, newer predictive dialers, including a system offered by Castel Inc., don't listen for the tone and instead detect a digital signal that accompanies each call to determine whether a line is disconnected, thus rendering the dialer immune to the Telezapper and Telezapper-like privacy devices.

David Theis, spokesman for AOL, Dulles, VA, acknowledged that the telemarketing privacy feature won't eliminate all telemarketing calls.

"It helps cut them down," he said. "I don't think there's a way to eliminate them."

He also said the feature will continue to appeal to AOL customers, who, like all consumers, have the option to register for the national no-call list for free. The feature also will be free to customers of the AOL Call Alert service, which for $3.95 per month alerts customers to incoming calls while they are online, and the $5.95-a-month AOL Voice Mail service, which in addition allows them to listen to voice-mail messages left by incoming callers while they are online.

"We're simply adding value to these services," he said.

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