New Phone Promises to Block Telemarketers' Calls

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Telemarketers face a new obstacle in completing calls with the introduction this month of PrivateTime PT1000, a telephone with a built-in privacy device and answering machine designed to block telemarketing calls.


PrivateTime works much like caller-ID devices, but it goes one step further by stopping all phones in a household from ringing. When the phone's privacy feature is activated, calls are screened. To get through the screen -- and have the phone ring -- callers must enter an access code. Otherwise, they have to leave a message. It also automatically asks telemarketers to place the consumer's number on their do-not-call lists.


There's just one catch: non-telemarketing calls get blocked, too.


Craig Hibbard, vice president of sales and marketing at Englewood, CO-based Command Communications, the maker of the device, acknowledged that the PrivateTime phone has drawbacks. However, he said it will sell to a niche of consumers who don't want any calls from anyone, telemarketer or not, during certain periods of the day.


"They want a way to block calls," Hibbard said. "They don't care who it is."


The phone is available by retail at Fry's stores and will be available soon at Best Buy and Office Depot, he said. It also is available direct via the company's Web site for $79.95 and may be available through a DRTV campaign later.


The popularity of such privacy devices has had an effect on telemarketers. Mary Shanley, president of consulting firm The Telemarketing Co., Chicago, estimated telemarketers can expect to connect with 65 percent to 70 percent of consumers on their calling lists, down from 85 percent to 90 percent several years ago, largely because of privacy devices.


The most common privacy device is caller ID. According to the American Teleservices Association, about 40 percent of consumers say they use caller ID in their homes.


Residential telephone service providers also offer privacy manager services, which intercept calls and ask callers to identify themselves. The service then rings the consumer's phone and asks whether the call should be allowed through.


There are ways for telemarketers to get around some privacy devices, said Bill Maikranz, a telemarketing technology expert with Oetting & Co., New York. Though there is no way around caller ID -- most people assume unidentified calls are telemarketers -- predictive dialers can be set to automatically leave a message identifying themselves to privacy manager services and try to get the consumer to allow the call to go through.


Shanley said she never advises clients to try to evade privacy devices. Telemarketers should try to provide a service to consumers and not try to talk with those who don't want to receive calls, she said.


"Why have reps waste time talking to people who hate the imposition of talking to telemarketers over the phone?" Shanley asked.


Unlike caller ID and privacy managers, electronic devices like the PrivateTime phone are available without a monthly fee. Another device on the market is the TeleZapper, which mimics the three-pitch tone given by disconnected phone lines in an effort to fool predictive dialers.


Maikranz said none of his clients reported any effect on their operations since the TeleZapper debuted in December.


"I've spent 20-some years with computers," Maikranz said. "I'm still not convinced it really works."


Royal Manufacturing, the company that produces the TeleZapper, claims sales of the device are thriving. It is conducting a national television advertising campaign for the product.


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