Relaxed rules release the dogs of telemarketing

Published 8:02 pm Monday, June 19, 2017

Antony, foreseeing chaos in the aftermath of the murder of Julius Caesar, intoned, “Cry ‘Havoc!,’ and let slip the dogs of war.” In more contemporary artistry with words, the Baha Men gave us, “Who let the dogs out? Who? Who? Who? Who?”

There’s every reason to believe this summer will go down in Mississippi history, perhaps world history, as the Summer of Telemarketing.

The dogs of auto-dialing have been set free.

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That’s the number of unwanted calls to my cell in a three-hour period.


“Hi, Robert. I’m calling to let you know ….”

“My name’s not Robert. This is not Robert’s phone.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I’ll make sure we take this number off the list.”

Four minutes later.


“Hi, Robert. I’m calling to let you know …”

“My name’s not Robert. This is not Robert’s phone.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll make sure we take this number off the list.”

“No, you won’t. I’ve been told six times today my number would be ta ….” Click.

There’s no point in saying, “There ought to be a law.”

There are laws.

In fact, there are more federal and Mississippi laws governing spam emails and texts and telemarketing than govern water purity.

Mississippi is very fortunate to have three elected members of its state Public Service Commission who are each dedicated and proven advocates for the citizenry. Regulating telemarketers is on their roster of duties, but if they haven’t thrown up their hands in despair, they should.

The basic law, of course, is dubbed “Do Not Call.” It says any enterprise wishing to make random calls must obtain federal and state registries of people who have opted out of receiving such calls. The law says telemarketers must program their dialers to avoid these numbers. The law provides for fines for companies that do not comply with do not call.

Of course the flaw is that the law assumes people engaged in phone scams are honest. It’s kind of like having a law that requires bank robbers to give the location and 24 hours’ notice before a stick-up.

The second flaw is the exceptions, which seem to be expanding.

Politicians wrote the state law in 2003 and exempted themselves right off. They’ve never had to avoid calling people who ask not to be called. Exemptions are now so prevalent that PSC now admits placing a number on the list will “reduce” telemarketing calls, not eliminate them.

As of today, the list can be ignored by registered charities, newspapers (yes), entities merely seeking a face-to-face meeting and/or not intending to seal a deal during the call, real estate, banking, financial, motor vehicle, funeral or cemetery enterprises licensed or registered by the state. When you think about it, that covers almost everyone except folks selling breakfast cereal or fishing worms.

“Spoofing,” which makes the call appear to be local or nearby, is also legal.

Another gap is “existing business relationship,” which is construed very broadly. (A store where you bought a pair of socks can call you offering a credit card every day for six months because you have an existing business relationship.)


“Hi, how are you.”

“I’m fine. You?”

“Great. I’m calling today to save you money on health insurance. Do you have group health insurance?”


“Well I might be able to save you $100 per month over your group plan. How many people are in your group?”

“Fifty-eight thousand, three hundred and eleven.” Click.

Not too many years ago the bloom seemed to be off the telemarketing rose. Congress and the Legislature had heard the cries of the people when they enacted the no-call laws. That was followed by more consumer use of Caller ID and call-blocking. Articles began to appear announcing that the end was near for telemarketing. It was no longer profitable.

But technology kept marching along. For one thing, every person (or almost every person) now has a phone within reach at all times. That’s bound to increase the odds of getting a response. Other “helps” are that calls can be made and completed (or nearly completed) by computer, which lessens telemarketers’ cost for employees. Robo-voices even leave voicemails.

So the dogs are out, running wild and free.

I have a friend keeps his phone off, turning it on only when he wants to use it. I ask about calls from friends. He’s indifferent, says the phone is for his convenience, not theirs.

The telemarketers haven’t found a way to get to him … yet.

But Caesar thought he was safe, too.

Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at