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TMCNet:  Contra Costa Times Tom Barnidge column

[January 02, 2013]

Contra Costa Times Tom Barnidge column

Jan 02, 2013 (Contra Costa Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Stop me if you've heard this one: "Hello, are your carpets dirty This is Ray with the carpet, tile and furniture cleaning experts, and for a limited time we will clean as many rooms as you like for as low as $9.95 per room. That's right, as low as $9.95 per room. And, of course, hallways, closets and bathrooms are always free." Ray called me and left a voice mail Sunday. Or, rather, his computerized robo-caller did. My first inclination was to invite him over just to clean the hallways, closets and bathrooms, but I was kind of busy watching football on TV.

Then, a short while later -- just after the 49ers scored their first touchdown against Arizona -- the carpet-cleaner's robo-caller phoned me again. My daughter doesn't call this often.

"Hello, are your carpets dirty " the recorded voice said. "This is Ray with the carpet, tile and furniture ..." Well, if they were dirty the first time, Ray, they're still dirty now. I haven't done anything about them in the last 45 minutes.

I found this episode mildly amusing because I was in a good mood -- I'm always in a good mood on my days off -- and because the lunacy of this random, unsolicited, amateurish sales pitch touched my funny bone. I'd never heard of his company, I couldn't stand his scratchy, singsong voice, and from his callback number, I knew Ray was in Sacramento. Aren't there any dirty carpets in the state capital It wasn't until the 49ers locked up a victory and I turned my attention to more urgent matters (Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys) that I realized how annoyed I should be. First off, robo sales calls have been illegal since 2009. Second, our phone number is listed with the National Do Not Call Registry. We shouldn't be getting unwanted sales calls, not even from my new pal Ray.

I called him back twice to complain but got his answering machine. I left a message saying I'd be happy to clean up his grammar for as low as $9.95 per paragraph.

That sent me to the Web to learn more about how the no-call list is supposed to work. The Telemarketing Sales Rule, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, gave birth to the National No Call Registry in 2003. You can gauge its popularity by the 217 million phones that now are registered.

Any U.S. resident can sign up -- land lines or cells -- to theoretically stop unsolicited sales calls (political, charitable and survey organizations are excepted). Violators can be reported at https://donotcall.gov or by calling 1-888-382-1222.

Skeptics -- at least, the one I'm married to -- question how diligently the FTC prosecutes these offenses, but the agency's website lists more than six dozen "enforcement actions" in the past eight years. Included was a judgment against Comcast and DirecTV for more than $3 million. Imagine a cable company calling uninvited. They never show up when you want them to.

Whether enforcement produces the desired result, of course, is another question. In 2004, the first full year the no-call list was in effect, 579,000 complaints were filed. The number has grown ever since (3.84 million last year), so the problem seems to be getting worse.

I reported Ray because he should know better, but it wasn't personal. In fact, if he takes me up on the grammar deal, I'll throw in spelling and capitalization for free.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.

___ (c)2013 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) Visit the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) at www.contracostatimes.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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