Monday, October 05, 2009

The Phoneys Among Us

History tells us that the first words ever spoken over a telephone were courtesy of its inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, who said to his assistant listening in the next room , "Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you."

I suspect history's second telephone conversation went something like this: "Mr, Bell, I'm calling on behalf of the Society to Eliminate Nose Hair. As you know, Mr. Bell, nose hair strikes thousands of adults in their prime, causing public displays of picking and plucking that are intolerable in this enlightened era. Remember, Mr. Bell, a nostril is a
terrible thing to lose. Help us stamp out nose hair by giving us a generous donation. How much can I put you down for?"

At which point Alexander Graham Bell hung up and immediately set out to invent call blocking.

Actually, Mr. Bell was long gone when telemarketing was inflicted upon an unsuspecting public. Some suggest that in the 1950s, DialAmerica Marketing, Inc.became the first company completely dedicated to inbound and outbound telephone sales and services. The company, spun-off and sold by Time, Inc. magazine in 1976, became the largest
provider of telephone sales and services to magazine publishing companies.

You remember them. They would call a month after you subscribed and ask you to renew.

I mention all this because my family is about to set a new world and Olympic record for annoying calls from a single source.

Thanks to Caller ID, which may be the greatest invention since the wheel, we have been able to duck at least 20 calls in a two week span from something called AICR. They call at 8 a.m., 8 p.m., weekdays and weekends, and every conceivable time in between.

I've been tempted to answer, just in case AICR stands for Astounding Infusion of Cash for Rector. But in my heart of hearts, I know they don't want to give me money, they want to take it.

So I decided to investigate AICR and see who they are and why they so desperately want my attention.

It turns out that AICR stands for the American Institute for Cancer Research. According to its website, it is the first organization to focus research on the link between diet and cancer and translate the results into practical information for the public.

Well, that seems like a noble goal. So how do I fit in? As an unwitting volunteer fundraiser, that's how.

AICR's telemarketers want you to distribute pledge forms to all your neighbors so they can help fund the organization's activities.

If that's not intrusive enough, it's your job then to collect the pledges and send them back to AICR, under the theory that peer pressure/guilt will open up wallets and purses up and down your street.

It's been my experience that most people enjoy their neighbors at arm's length. Start banging on doors and asking for money and you become no more than a telemarketer yourself. Then, watch your social standing in the neighborhood equal that of the old lady up the street who keeps 40 cats in her house and hasn't emptied the trash in five

Don't get me wrong. We should all join the fight to cure cancer. I lost my mother and mother-in-law to cancer so I know the pain it can inflict not only on the victim but the survivors as well. But what are you really contributing to here?

The American Institute for Cancer Research, according to the New York state attorney general's 2006 report on nonprofit fundraising, took in only 13 percent of the money that a professional fundraising organization raised for them.

And a group called Charity Navigator, which last year helped 4 million donors decide where their money would do the most good, gave AICR a rating of one star out of a possible four.

Besides, even if AICR was run by the Dali Lama himself, their aggresive telemarketing campaign would negate most of the good deeds they may do.

My advice in dealing with telemarketers: Speak to them in a foreign language, preferably one you just made up. If they ask, "how are you today?" tell them your dog just died. If you're a male and the caller is female, ask in a husky voice, "so,what are you wearing?" Imitate a recorded message saying you'll be released from prison
soon. If that fails, one wag suggested telling the caller that they have reached a murder scene, you are a detective, the person they are calling is dead and you want to know exactly how they know the victim.

No comments: