Call to action sounded after phone rang too much

April 08, 2002|By Kevin Cowherd

REGULAR VISITORS to this space recognize that I am a man of action, a man who doesn't sit there and whine about life's injustices, but goes out and by God does something about them -- unless it's, you know, inconvenient or time-consuming or something.

This time, I've gone to war with the telemarketers.

Like a lot of you out there, I got sick to death of these people.

I got sick of the annoying phone calls at all hours of the day, sick of sprinting to the phone only to hear a faux-friendly voice chirp "Mr. Co-herd, how are you today?" and launch into an eye-glazing spiel for the VISA Platinum card or MCI long-distance service or some other stupid thing I don't want.

So the other day I went out and plunked down $49.95 for the TeleZapper, which is the hot new device for keeping these vermin out of your life.

And now my problems with the telemarketers are over. Oh, yes, from here on in, it's just sunshine and blue skies and no more calls on behalf of the evil corporate creeps at Capital One and Verizon and AT&T.

Well, maybe.

According to the TeleZapper literature, more than 90 percent of all telemarketing calls are computer-dialed.

So the theory behind the TeleZapper is this: When a telemarketer calls and you pick up the phone, it supposedly "outsmarts" the computer by "emitting a special tone that tells the computer your number is disconnected."

Therefore, the poor sales drone on the other end never gets to talk to you. Better yet, your phone number is dropped off the computer's list.

As your number is dropped from more and more lists, the literature says, you get fewer and fewer phone calls from telemarketers until the "calls are virtually stopped altogether."

Well, we'll see about that, too.

As I write this, I've only had the TeleZapper for two days, which is way too soon to tell how effective it is.

Naturally, for the first five or six hours after I hooked up the TeleZapper, the phone didn't ring at all. This, of course, is the equivalent of hearing a noise in your car's engine and bringing it to your mechanic, only to have the noise stop the minute you pull into his garage.

Anyway, with the TeleZapper, if your phone rings, you answer it, and there's no one there, you probably just "zapped" a telemarketer.

Actually, I did get a couple of calls where all I heard was a click on the other end. With my luck, though, it wasn't a telemarketer, but some stalker who just dropped his machete for a moment.

Or it was some hot-shot book publisher calling to offer me a big contract when he keeled over at his desk and dropped the phone.

One thing I liked about the TeleZapper is that it's designed not to interfere with computers or fax machines, and will work in harmony, more or less, with answering machines.

But -- without sounding like a commercial here -- what I liked best was how easy it was to install.

Look, when it comes to being handy, I can barely work a fireplace screen.

But even I could figure out what wire went into what phone jack, and within minutes the TeleZapper was up and running, providing a mighty, impenetrable shield against telemarketers for the Cowherd household.

Well, it would have, if any of them had bothered calling for the next five hours.

But that's how mean and rotten these telemarketers are. The minute you shell out big bucks to make their lives miserable, they stop calling you.

And they wonder why we hate them.

How could you not hate someone like that?

Anyway, the TeleZapper literature doesn't claim the device is the perfect call-screener, which is refreshing.

It won't, for instance, "zap" bill collectors who call to harass you about that credit card balance you haven't paid in months. And companies who dial your number directly, and not through a computer-dialing system, will still be able to get through and make your life a living hell.

But according to the TeleZapper brochure, people using it "typically see an 80 percent or higher reduction in calls, with many reporting close to a 100 percent reduction of telemarketing calls since you are being taken off the telemarketers' lists."

That's a lofty claim, obviously. And we'll see how true it is in the next few weeks as I continue to test my TeleZapper, after which I will report back in another column, either praising or ripping it.

Oh, sure, I guess there could be some middle ground there. I guess we could take a careful, balanced look at the TeleZapper's good points and bad points.

But where's the fun in that?

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