Not wanting to hear about my extended car warranty options, I signed up for the "Do Not Call" list years ago. That has not stopped a constant barrage of calls looking to help me to improve my placement on Google.
As a night shift worker, calls from "Your Credit Card Company" looking to help me reduce my debt are more than a minor inconvenience, they are an interruption that cuts into a sleep pattern that is already extremely fragile. My constant battle with circadian rhythms is hard enough without interruptions from my "local family-owned contractor" looking to provide me with a no-obligation quote or "the utility company" offering to install solar panels (apparently on top of the panels that are already on my roof).
The cell phone company now helpfully warns me with a "scam likely" message when one of these calls comes in, but this does not change the fact that I have already been shaken from my slumber. I could turn my phone into a very expensive paperweight by turning off its power, which would solve the problem of being woken up by telemarketers. Unfortunately, this would also block every other call from coming in. My daughters' schools would be unable to reach me. Family members who know better than to call except in the case of an emergency would also not be able to get through. Work calls requiring immediate attention would also be blocked.
The hours spent restlessly trying to return to REM sleep have given me plenty of time to ponder a solution to this problem. During this time I have come to the conclusion that these telemarketers exist because we have made it too cheap for them to engage in this disruptive behavior. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is too overwhelmed to enforce the "Do Not Call" rules, so these companies know that they will not face a penalty for blatantly calling those who have put their names on the list. These companies also benefit from the fact that paying for phone calls is a thing of the past. Yes, kids, phone companies used to charge us based on the length of a phone call.
What if we were to return to the pay-as-you-go model? However, instead of the phone company making money on your calls to grandma, Uncle Sam would charge a tax on usage that would be collected by phone companies. This would increase the cost of running boiler rooms for predatory cold-callers. The interruptions to your family dinner, and my sleep, would finally have a cost.
To offset the fact that people making personal phone calls should not be penalized, I would also propose that these taxes would be refundable when filing taxes on April 15. To take advantage of this deduction, the tax filer would have to swear under penalty of perjury that they had not violated the "Do Not Call" rules. Complaints filed for violations by telemarketers would finally have a purpose as the IRS could comb through them when investigating suspected telemarketers. The taxes collected could be used to further beef up enforcement and compensate phone companies for their increased record-keeping costs.
Are telemarketers a problem worthy of our politicians' time? To me, unwanted phone calls are the telephonic equivalent of graffiti; they represent a blight that affects our quality of life. But what would I know, I am sleep-deprived? The fact that "telemarketing scams are the most common contact method for seniors" should make our representatives wake up and take notice. Surely, decreasing these calls to cut into the $3 billion in losses suffered annually by the elderly due to fraud is a problem worth addressing.
Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for students with special education needs and public education. He is an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and serves as the Education Chair. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Dr. Diane Ravitch has called him "a valiant fighter for public schools in Los Angeles." For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.