'Hello, Mr. Taliban Man. May I Interest You in ...'

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The possibility of a national do-not-call list. ... More states starting DNC lists of their own. ... A study ranking telemarketing calls below Internet pop-up ads.

If you think telemarketers haven't been hammered enough lately, at least two sites -- the Lawnmower Association and Sigecom, which offers communication services -- poke fun at Osama bin Laden and the telemarketing industry. One address, http://members.sigecom.net/theclan/taliban.html, has made the rounds of several online discussion groups recently and features a supposed Taliban agent. The voice of an FBI agent reminiscent of Sgt. Joe Friday asks him for bin Laden's location or "you must face the consequences."

"Leave us alone. We know nothing of this bin Laden."

"We think you do. Listen, Mr. Taliban Person, do you realize that this is your final opportunity or we must lash out with an assault of which you do not have the technology to handle?"

"We do not fear your weapons."

"We know that, but you don't have answering machines."

The banter continues. Then a telephone rings.

"Hello, how are you this afternoon? Would you like better rates on your long-distance service?"

"You have the wrong number." Click.

Another ring. "Hello, Mr. Taliban Man. Did you know that aluminum siding can raise the property value of your house?"

"Congratulations! You qualify for the platinum card."

"Good afternoon, sir. How would you like free HBO for a month?"

"Hello. For a great deal on automobile insurance, please hold the line for the next available ..."

"Can I interest you in details on how you can win a free vacation?"

It's easy to see why telemarketing has become a punching bag, but many of the problems can be fixed. Set predictive dialers at levels so the abandonment rate drops. Pass a caller-ID bill and get over the technical hurdles so marketers are identified. And get together and fix the DNC issue. Pretty soon, each state will have its own list, and a national one from the Federal Trade Commission will only cause more compliance headaches.


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