'Predator' List Miffs Privacy Advocates

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Teleservices technology provider CallCommand is offering a telemarketing compliance solution that screens calls against what it refers to as a "predator" list of lawsuit-happy consumers in addition to state and federal no-call lists.


However, privacy advocates last week said they were angry that the company has characterized people who sue telemarketers as "predators," prompting CallCommand's president to rethink the list's name.


"We're not calling out anybody in particular just because they filed a lawsuit against a telemarketer," said Al Babbington, president of CallCommand, Cincinnati. "I wouldn't be presumptuous enough to call anyone a predator."


A Jan. 27 press release from the company described the compliance solution, CallScan on Demand, as low cost and targeted to the auto dealership market. Among the lists against which it screens calls is a "predator" list of people "trying to entrap legitimate businesses and milk them for thousands of dollars."


CallCommand did not intend to offend anyone with the list, Babbington said. However, some consumers sue telemarketers regularly enough that it's "almost an occupation," and they intentionally don't register for state and federal no-call lists so they can continue their lawsuit activity, he said.


"They should appreciate the fact that we have a solution preventing clients from calling them," he said. "If they're legitimate, they wouldn't want anybody calling them."


Under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, consumers can tell specific telemarketers to stop calling them and then sue them for $500 to $1,500 per violation if they fail to heed the request. The right to sue under the TCPA continued after the launch of the national no-call list.


Since the national list took effect in October, many teleservices companies have added no-call compliance solutions to their offerings. But three national companies that specialize in no-call compliance -- Gryphon Networks, PossibleNOW and Call Compliance -- said that they do not directly provide clients with a predator list like the one offered by CallCommand.


However, such lists are available -- law firms that service telemarketers have them -- and compliance providers can screen calls against any list their client wishes, representatives of the three companies said. Another list some telemarketers use is the Private Citizen list maintained by privacy advocate Robert Bulmash, said Scott Frey, president/CEO of PossibleNOW.


Bill Raney, an attorney for the law firm Copilevitz & Canter who specializes in telemarketing law, said he once maintained a list of consumers who had sued his clients but did not refer to it as a predator list. He said he ceased keeping the list when the logistics involved with updating it became burdensome.


Consumers need to be on a state, national or company-specific no-call list to have a valid lawsuit, and compliance providers block calls to those lists anyway, Frey said. Both he and a Call Compliance representative described CallCommand's predator list as a marketing effort to differentiate its service from its competitors.


Some privacy advocates see the predator list as a personal attack. One of those is Diana Mey, a Wheeling, WV, consumer whose TCPA lawsuits against Sears, Discover and other national telemarketers have gained national headlines.


"I have no problem being on every do-not-call list that there is," Mey said. "I take offense to the term 'predator list.' "


The list contains the names of people who assert their rights under the law, Mey said. Telemarketers know most people lack the time and legal know-how to sue. So by avoiding calls to certain consumers, they can commit violations without fear of repercussion from private legal action, though federal and state authorities have increased their enforcement efforts.


Mey said she was angered by a tape she received of a conversation between fellow privacy advocate Richard Zelma and a public relations agent for CallCommand. During the conversation, a recording of which Mey provided to DM News, the agent said that people on the predator list were similar to a woman "covered in the Wall Street Journal." When asked whether that woman was Mey, the agent answered yes.


Mey said she was offended by how the agent characterized her during the conversation. Though she had written many letters to telemarketers requesting to be taken off their lists, she said she has filed only 10 lawsuits since 1997 and has donated much of the money she has won to charities and civic groups, including her son's Boy Scout troop.


Babbington said he and other CallCommand employees have no way to know whether Mey or anyone else is on the list because CallCommand stores only phone numbers, not names. He declined to give specifics about the list but said that CallCommand's law firm helped put it together and that some entries came from public sources.


Mey said she didn't blame telemarketers for trying to avoid calls to people like her and that she doesn't advocate consumers suing telemarketers strictly for money. She said she would appreciate it if CallCommand stopped using the word "predator" in referring to the list.


"That would make me happy," said Mey, who added that she would like an apology as well. "I think they need to come up with a better name for their list."


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