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Discussion point: the ethical issues surrounding unsolicited sales phone calls

Is it better to just hang them or should we draw and quarter first?

55 comments to Discussion point: the ethical issues surrounding unsolicited sales phone calls

  • Since giving up the landline, this has ceased to be a problem for me. Previously they would call regularly from teatime until 8 or 9 PM. Used to drive my other half crazy.

    Registering with the Telephone Preference Service led to a drop-off in calls, unfortunately the unlisted and international calls were worse, certainly more unscrupulous.

    Nowadays, when a service demands a number I give them the old disconnected number. Like I fucking care. If they have an issue, they can write to me and I WILL CALL THEM.

    The thing which was most irritating is that all these telephone callers were wasting their time as I would never buy anything from someone calling up anyway.

    Natalie is right. Hanging, drawing and quartering is an appropriate treatment for these fuckers, possibly “The Wicker Man” for boiler room scammers.

  • jerry

    At least up until recently, ‘they’ had a new ploy for getting around the ‘do not call registry’.

    Caller – Hello is Fred Knuckledustser there ?
    Victim – Um, no, I think you have the wrong number.
    Caller – Well perhaps YOU can help me. I represent the Roof Rat Endangerment Foundation
    and we are looking for ………………..

    You get the idea.

    “We were looking for Fred. It was an honest mistake !
    Yeah,right !!

    Cell phones will lessen the number and calls but not for much longer. Sequential and random dialers neither know nor care if it is a cell phone or land line ( although number blocking apps can help )

    ‘Telemarketing / scamming’ – the wave of the future !

    Hanging or drawn & quartered ??
    Pick one.
    Hanging AFTER drwn & quartering requires multiple ropes / branches / lamp posts and we could run out !!!

  • Dave Walker

    These days, the only landline I have, has a fax machine on it, configured to pick up on the first ring. The number’s ex-directory and everyone I want to talk to has my mobile details anyway, so only faxes should be legitimately coming through to the landline number.

  • Dave Walker

    …in fact, there’s an obvious angle from this; honeylines, in the same manner as honeypots and honeynets.

    If wardiallers are to be blacklisted, stand a new number (or set of numbers) up, give nobody their details, put calling numbers straight on a blacklist. Simple.

  • Midwesterner

    I have two phone numbers. My land line is my ‘official’ phone number. Whenever any business requires a phone number I give them that number. I let the answering machine screen my calls. Probably 80% of the calls are telemarketers of some flavor, mostly related to my business.* 10% maybe are useful calls I don’t need to answer (“your blank is ready for blank“, etc) and 10% calls I actually want to talk to. Except they seem to mostly call when I’m out so they wind up on the machine anyway.

    *As a complete non-sequitur, I can tell a lot about what is going on with other contractors in my business by the nature of the telemarketer calls I get. For the last few years the vast majority of my calls have shifted to “compliance assistance”. They are offering to help me set up my “safety programs” and “safety meetings” and get all of my employees (which I don’t have any for just this reason) properly trained and certified to avoid civil and criminal penalties. Either that or they are offering to help me make sure I have filled out all of the necessary forms, applications, licenses, paid all of the fees, etc for my field(s) of work. I no longer get any calls at all offering to help me do my job more efficiently or get tools and materials at reduced cost. It’s all “compliance”.

  • “Bugger off, don’t call again”


    It does not take long.

  • Steve

    I let them talk away whilst I put the phone down and carry on working. If it’s an automated response, I always press 1 (or whatever) to talk to them and then again, let them get on with it with nobody listening. Unless it is a criminal scam, in which case I give them a piece of my mind. Works wonders for your stress levels.

  • Joebob

    No one has a problem with the various government mandated do-not-call systems? Aren’t telemarketers just choosing their own way to run a business? Some lot of individualists you all are.

  • Ben

    Unsolicited approaches are free speech. As long as they bugger off when you ask them too, and don’t call back, then it is just something you have to put up with along with Friends of the Earth chuggers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and political canvassers.

    If it gets too much you can use the technological equivalent of a “no hawkers, circulars, or income tax” sign. Telephone Preference service, combined with call screening.

  • the other rob

    I wonder how well this would work?

    “What are you wearing?”

    *sound of heavy breathing*

  • Mr Ed

    @ Ben, I beg to differ. It is not ‘free speech’ at all. Free speech is the absence of civll or criminal sanctions for the act of communicating per se. I have no right to shout ‘fire’ through your letterbox, unless you invite me, expressly or implicitly. Phoning people for whatever reason is a form of either nuisance or trespass, one might presume consent to phone friends, relatives, business, bureaucrat, charities and politicians for a reasonable purpose.

    The callers could well operate under a presumption that they are making a nuisance call unless the contrary is shown. What right have I to knock on your door when you are in the bath if I have some life insurance that might interest you? I should not presume consent to telephone those who would not wish to hear from me.

    Silence or speaking Portuguese works for me.

  • whatever

    Should get yourself a BT6500…

    works wonders with spam phonecalls

  • Shlomo

    Having worked as a telemarketer some years ago, I guess I have a soft spot for these poor wretches. I get perhaps 3-4 calls daily, but increasingly they are the automated variety which are no fun at all. I enjoy actually speaking to the guys and gals on the other end because it gives me a chance to perfect my accents. I have Mr Khan, Rabbi Blum and Mr McEntaggart in my armoury to name a few. It did occur to me that by way of some fabulous routing contraption, there might be a business opportunity for telephone answerers out there…what do you think?

  • AndrewWS

    “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. What was that you said?”

    (They repeat it.)

    “Yes, that’s what I thought you said.”


  • A cowardly citizen

    To be honest: “Not interested, goodbye.” is quicker and less annoying all round.

    Also, if you have a store card, you probably didn’t read the small print that said you agreed to be approached by “carefully selected partner offers.” You thought Air Miles or Nectars points were free?

  • A cowardly citizen

    For “store card”, read “reward points card.”

  • I think I’m with Joebob here. A phone number, like a front door, is in some ways an invitation to call.

    Much like the web server that serves up whatever documents you configure it to (that I disagreed with Perry about some time back), a phone follows a technical protocol and calling random numbers to see who answers is allowed according to the protocol (unless some contract to the contrary is made with the service provider). No I don’t agree with government mandated do-not-call lists.

    I don’t particularly like cold callers, and I would never buy anything from one, but I am always polite with them. It doesn’t take long to say “no thank-you” and if they continue to talk then *they* have initiated the rudeness and *then* you can have whatever fun you want or just hang up.

    A good solution would be if all phone providers mandated the use of caller ID and then third parties could maintain lists of numbers used to make cold calls which users could choose to block.

  • bloke in spain

    Just had a string of these. Some life insurance company.
    But they’re calling a number corresponds with an unregistered SIM that only one person in the UK has & has never used. Pure emergency number. Unless they’re cold calling close to a billion number combinations (11 digit UK cellnet numbers less 0+7) they got it from the service provider.

  • This app for smartphones uses an Internet database to give information about the caller before you answer. I like this sort of technical solution.

  • the other rob

    Rob – while it’s true that it doesn’t take long to say “no thank you”, it can take quite a while to get to that point. In the USA, cold callers of all types either (a) take forever to get to the point, so that you have to wait quite a while before being able to say “no thank you” or (b) are deliberately deceptive “I’m calling with urgent information about problems with your new health insurance policy.” Hence the commonly held view that the act of calling is, in itself, an initiation of rudeness.

    As for do-not-call lists, of themselves they are merely a voluntary means for free individuals to announce their preference not to be called by telemarketers. While government sanctions for wantonly disregarding such announcements may be problematic (and the compliance costs more so) they are, in some ways, little different to sanctions for peddlers ignoring “No Solicitors” signs on people’s front doors.

  • I pay for phone service for my convenience, not so that I can provide a captive audience for every asshole with a sales pitch, sob-story or survey to respond to. I’m on the don-not-call registry too. Anyone who calls me for any of the above purposes anyway is not going to get a polite reception.

  • Phil B

    For me, it goes along these lines :

    Caller “Is that Mr. B?”
    Me “No – what is it in connection with?”
    Caller “Are you the householder?”
    Me “Wait a moment, I’ll just get him for you”.

    Put the handset alongside the phone, go and read a book, work in the garage etc.

    Goback half an hour later and replace the handset in the cradle (or equivalent).

    I LOVE the Indian ones saying “I’m from Microsoft, we’ve detected a problem with your computer”. Amazing as I run Linux on the one connected to the web ..

    But as for hanging, drawing and quartering? Pah! Any good lawyer will get them to run concurrently >};o)

  • I think I’m with Joebob here. A phone number, like a front door, is in some ways an invitation to call. Much like the web server that serves up whatever documents you configure it to (that I disagreed with Perry about some time back)

    The disagreement was that you seem to take the view that not only is a door an invitation to knock, a lock on a door is an invitation to pick that lock and if said lock proves trivially easy to pick, then there is no reason you cannot enter and help yourself to any documents you find there. So yes, that is a fairly profound disagreement Rob 😀

  • Sam Duncan

    “I LOVE the Indian ones saying “I’m from Microsoft, we’ve detected a problem with your computer”. Amazing as I run Linux on the one connected to the web ..”

    I had a lot of fun with the first guy to try that. I think he’s the only cold-caller ever to hang up on me. There hasn’t been a second, for some reason.

  • Fred Z

    Why do none of the major telephone companies, cell as well as land, or the major manufacturers offer solutions?

    An easy solution would be a phone set to refuse even to ring unless the caller was on an “acceptable caller” list. Those not on the list would be shunted immediately and soundlessly to voicemail. The caller list would automatically update by out calls one made, as well as manual entries.

    To answer my question, it’s because they are all in cahoots to increase call numbers and duration to increase cash flowing their way.

    Please, if there’s a bright young engineer out there, I’d pay a lot for cell or land phones whose response to an unknown incoming call was to silently and without disturbing my life or my sleep send the caller away.

    Specialty messages for incoming numbers and classes of caller would be nice too. Everything from a cool, composed “Your call has been refused as of unknown origin.” to an enraged shriek of “Fuck off and die you mewling, beetle-headed canker blossom” Perhaps artificial intelligence software which would try to engage unauthorized callers in conversation and waste as much of their time and bandwidth as possible.

  • In Nigeria, the problem is more one of spam text messages which can come to you at all hours of the day or night, usually with some religious message, e.g. “In HIM you will find song.” Whatever the hell that’s all about. Problem is, even the network operator sends out promotional texts at 3am. It’s a right pain in the arse if you need to keep you phone on for emergencies.

  • Alsadius

    I’ve done some(political) cold calling, and so I’m always courteous with them, because I know how awful their job is.

    I do recall the last one though, calling me when I was mostly asleep, where I wound up giving him sales advice. I believe what I said was “Look dude, if you’re going to do sales you have to know when someone’s not going to buy and move on. I’m not going to buy. Move on.” *click*

    (this was after 3 successive rebuttals, all of which were flat restatements of the same things I didn’t buy on the first time)

  • Julie near Chicago

    The whole thing is a non-problem, at least if you have a landline. I’m with Mid on this. I never answer the phone unless it’s somebody I want to talk to. (My message says, “We do not respond to solicitations, polls, or surveys.” I believe this never hurts the feelings of the computer at the other end.)

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Responding to Rob Fisher, also relevant to Joebob & Ben:

    A phone number, like a front door, is in some ways an invitation to call.

    I do see your point, but there is more to it than that. (1) I have, as it happens, twice attempted to rescind that invitation by registering with the Telephone Preference Service. Each time the number of calls dipped for a while then rose to its previous level or above. I’ll give it a third go soon but I don’t seriously expect it to work any better this time.

    (2) It’s an invitation to call in the same way that the existence of the common land was an invitation to graze your sheep and goats there. Twenty years ago I was almost interested to receive one of these “sales calls” I had heard about from American novels. I remember actually being willing to participate in telephone surveys! – that really were surveys!!!

    Yes, there are some technical solutions. But most of them depend on specifying a list of acceptable callers in advance and, like a lot of people, our household is in a situation in which there are certain calls from unknown numbers that we need to be able to receive.

    Interestingly, the number of calls we get from door to door salespeople, after declining almost to nothing over the twenty years we have lived in our present house, has recently started to rise again.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Alsadius & Shlomo, while waiting for the law to catch up with public opinion and institute hanging, drawing and quartering, I am fairly polite as well. The cold calling job I had was directed at businesses in business hours, and wasn’t really “cold” as I was calling people whose job was universally understood to involve taking sales calls like mine, but even that was pretty horrible.

    The phrase “Can I just stop you there?” followed immediately (irrespective of whether they have stopped or not) by “weneverbuyanythingoverthephoneorparticipateinsurveysgoodbye” is as good a solution as I have. It’s still annoying.

  • Minor nit. If you’ve quartered them first, it’s a tad hard to hang them. Much better to do it the traidtional way. Hang until nearly dead, then cut them down, draw them and then if you feel merciful (e.g. it was a first offence) quarter them. If not feed ’em to the dogs.

    Part of the problem with caller ID is that these scum bags can (and often do) lie, meaning that you have to work on a whitelist approach (I trust the follwoing numbers) not a blacklist one.

  • JohnB

    Afraid I feel rather sorry for them.
    They are trying to eke out an existence by engaging in one of the most demoralising activities that exists.
    Okay. Their choice I guess. They could simply go on benefits.
    Ah, they probably already are?
    I just say no thanks and put the phone down.

  • Ian Bennett

    I have a landline because it got me a cheaper deal with Virgin Media when I took their TV service. The obvious reason is that they then sell my number to junk callers, which answers Fred Z’s question, “Why do none of the major telephone companies, cell as well as land, or the major manufacturers offer solutions?” To do so would decrease the value of the numbers that they sell.

    The overwhelming majority of my cold calls are from PPI scammers. They usually start with “Hello, sir, my name is Patrick”, in a heavy accent of the Asian sub-continent. Yes, and my name is Sanjeet. Most others are from some energy supplier offering to save me money on my bills. If I can be bothered, I ask if their company is well-known. Of course, they tell me that it is. So, I ask, do you not think I would have heard of it? So would I not have already checked their tariff? Generally, though, I have three options, depending on my mood: 1) set the receiver down and continue about my business, per Phil B; 2) I invite the caller to go and fuck him (or her) self, and hang up; or 3) I politely say, “If you call me again, I will hunt you down and eat your children.”

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    JohnB, you have reminded me of a theme I have often written about – the way that the complex of welfare / regulation / minimum wage laws etc. have destroyed most of the low-skill service jobs at the bottom of the economy.

    These jobs were often boring and demoralising but I bet they weren’t nearly so demoralising as cold-calling, which since it can be done from anywhere can easily evade the laws intended to regulate it. The PPI claims firms have benefited from the government decreasing the number of alternative jobs available, most of which were of low status but did not involved being hated and insulted all day long.

  • @Rob Fisher:

    “A phone number, like a front door, is in some ways an invitation to call.”

    Yes, but in the UK at least I have the ability to execute a formal Withdrawal of Implied Right of Access aka WOIRA to step specified people knocking on my door, like the goons from Capita who appear as part of the BBC’s TV Licensing extortion racket.

    With a telephone I have no such right to withdraw. This is why I found it easier to just not plug a phone in the socket. There was still a number linked in there somewhere as it’s broadband, but good luck to anyone calling it…

  • I did it for a living for a very short while (guess why so short), many years ago, selling some kind of insurance, IIRC. So none of that hanging thing, as far as I’m concerned. And, I do try to be as patient and polite as the momentary situation and mood permit.

    That said, I strongly disagree with the notion that my front door is invitation to anything – it is not. It is there for me to get in and out of my home. I don’t mind strangers using it for their own purposes, when such an intrusion costs me nothing or very little (let alone when it ends up benefiting me in some way), but that is my choice, not theirs.

    Telephone lines are different, because unlike front doors, they are provided to us by private companies under certain conditions – one of those being their ability to sell our phone numbers to other people. So as far as I can see, the correct solution would be for customers to take this issue with the service providers. How effective this would be in the current business environment of heavy regulation (which always favors large and powerful service providers over smaller ones, let alone over their customers) and the deliberate non-enforcement of private contracts, is a separate question. Or perhaps not so separate.

  • Colonol Shotover

    Dear me, it’s only a phone call. Lots of illiberal opinions being expressed here. I don’t think we should expect a right of being able to have a phone but only having it ring when it’s somebody we welcome on the other end. No right to remain unoffended, in other words.
    As for me, with cold calls I don’t want I always turn the conversation round straight away by asking lots of questions. Who’s calling? What’s your surname? What company is it? Where is it based? What’s your home address? What number can I call you back on? Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about your family?It can get quite entertaining. But they always get fed up and ring off, usually sooner rather than later, and I don’t seem to get bothered that much. Having said that, there is a high proportion of pretty serious fraud attempts amongst the calls, and I do feel more could be done to stop these criminals. With those calls I always try to find out whether the person calling knows they are involved in a criminal enterprise: I suspect many of them have no idea. Those that aren’t actually criminal are usually sailing pretty close to the wind:
    “we’re calling about your accident”.
    “What accident?”.
    “The accident you had recently”.
    “When exactly?”
    “Within the last two or three years”.

  • Michael Grosh

    The Other Rob:
    Would work? “What are you wearing?” *sound of heavy breathing*

    No, they just hang up. No fun at all. But, if you lead with something like “where are you calling from?” (And it is usually Canada-they must be circumventing some U.S. law) then, what is your home phone # (you have mine, why can’t I have yours?).
    Then you launch what are you wearing. One can feel the wheels turning…am I being violated? Is it actionable? It’s quite fun.
    Of course, it probably is actionable. Except not from Canada.

  • Tedd

    My preferred technique is to simply hang up without saying anything. It felt rude at first, because I’m always mindful that the individual person calling is just someone trying to earn a living, not the person who actually decides if, whom, or when to call. But I’ve decided that it’s not rude, under the circumstances, and better than saying anything.

    That pause between when you answer and when the auto-dialer sends the call to a person is usually sufficient to identify it as a nuisance call.

  • Laird

    As Tedd says, there is an autodialer gap between answering and the caller speaking. My rule is to give two “hellos” and then hang up quickly; that usually eliminates autodialer calls.

    With live callers I am polite but just say “I’m not interested, thank you” and get off quickly. No need to be rude about it unless the caller is (which is rare). But if you really want a screener the BT6500 Nuisance Call Blocker mentioned by whatever (above) looks interesting.

  • Tedd

    I had a call blocker at one time, and was happy wit it. I had started getting fax calls early in the morning — lots of them, every day — so I put in the blocker. Eventually, I discovered that a local big-box hardware store had my phone number erroneously listed on their web site as their number for contractors to fax orders to. They were very quick about fixing it once I told them, but the fax calls continued to come for many months after that.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)


    I stand corrected. You are of course historically correct. But one can always innovate.

  • Steph Houghton

    I just want to point out that one draws and quarters after handing, not before. Anyway, that was always reserved for treason, and while telemarketing is bad, its not that bad.

  • Steph Houghton

    after hanging

  • dfwmtx

    If I’m in the mood and/or have time to do so, I will mess with these people. I will listen to their spiel, then refuse it with some excuse (“I’m sorry, but I believe using credit cards are a sin.”) I figure that while I’m having fun wasting this telemarketer’s time, they’ll be calling less people who might have their day ruined.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    After hanging up, anyway 😉

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    In Good Omens several telemarketers are devoured by a demon who emerges from one of their phones in the form of a ravening swarm of maggots. It is depicted as being on balance a good thing, although the authors wimped out later.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    As I am a journalist, if my mobile is called, I say: “are you calling with a news story or is this a sales call? If it is a sales call then I’m not interested thanks.”

    That usually does the trick. Polite and firm. Some of these callers are trying to earn a living. Some are obnoxious, and some are scammers.

    You can screen and block some numbers but that can be a bit of a pain to set up.

    Johovahs Witnesses knocking my door at 8 am on Saturday are a pet hate. “No thanks and please don’t return” is my reaction.

  • @Johnathan Pearce:

    Just serve your local Kingdom Hall with a notice of Withdrawal of Implied Right of Access to its church members. Thus if the god bothers come back they are committing an act of criminal trespass.

    Freedom of speech is one thing but banging on your door on a weekend is quite another. How the phrase “Fuck Off you god bothering c@#$%!” can be misunderstood I have no idea.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Johnathan: Years ago I saw a couple of Jehovahs walking up the drive–you can always tell, they are immaculately dressed and groomed. After quite a few previous visits I had finally figured out that they are never, ever interested in letting go of you, period.

    Quick like a bunny, I put up a note on the door: “If you are here without invitation, you are trespassing, which is against the law. It is also lousy public relations.”

    Never had another call from them.

    More recently, at my daughter’s, I just put up a sign saying “People are sleeping–please go away. Do not ring the bell.”

    That worked too. :>)

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    “a lock on a door is an invitation to pick that lock and if said lock proves trivially easy to pick, then there is no reason you cannot enter and help yourself to any documents you find there.”

    Oh it was just metaphore failure. I was arguing that the lock did not exist. 😉

  • TDK

    The callers are motivated by sales targets and regardless of how the call ends they would rather move on to a more promising prospect.

    That said a dropped call or a polite no will not get you removed from the prospects list. My tactic is to say “can you hang on while I get a pen and paper” and then leave the phone off the hook for an hour. Other commentators above have similar strategies for wasting their time. In the end, if there is a cost to ringing me in terms of lost opportunity time then there is an incentive for them to remove me from their list.