A few years ago, the federal government started the Do Not Call Registry, allowing home phone owners to bar telemarketers from calling. While the list is considered a success, many telemarketing calls still slip through.
That led a man in Sacramento, Calif., to develop a new strategy for fighting back: Take the most persistent callers to small claims court. He has already received about $6,100 in damages from the telemarketers — and set up a Web site to teach others how to do it as well.
For Andre-Tascha Lamme, the last straw came a few months ago. Over the summer he began getting phone calls from mortgage companies — as many as 15 a week. The calls started coming, he says because the rate on his mortgage was about to go up. And someone had passed on his name to dozens of small refinancing companies.
"So what they do is, they call and call and they don't take no for an answer," Lamme says. "I would specifically tell them, 'Please don't call again, I'm not interested in refinancing my mortgage,' and regardless, I'd get a call two days later saying, 'Hey I worked some numbers for your area and I really think that you might be interested.'"
Lamme, a 38-year-old computer consultant who lives in Sacramento, had placed his name on the National Do Not Call Registry and he knew that telemarketers weren't supposed to call him.
But he also knew that under a little known provision of the 1991 federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act he could sue persistent telemarketers in small claims court and actually receive damages for each call.
And so that's what he began doing. He says the companies didn't like it.
So far Lamme has sued four companies, and he has received about $6,100.
"One suit," Lamme says, "they had so many violations that it was a $4,500 amount, and their reaction was, 'Just because you received a few phone calls you didn't want, I'm supposed to pay you money?'"
Jack Gillis of the Consumer Federation of America points out that going to small claims court is time-consuming. And he says not that many people want to do it. So he doesn't think that Lamme's strategy will really deter many telemarketers from making unwanted calls.
But Gillis says the site is a good way for consumers to vent their rage.
"It requires a lot of effort," Gillis says, "but it will pay off in terms of sending a signal to those folks who are violating the Do Not Call list, that there are at least some consumers willing to take action."
Lamme adds that he's simply trying to give people the tools to fight back if they want to.
The whole idea is, I'm sick of the calls, you're sick of the calls. These are your rights. Go learn 'em. Take back your bloody phone from these folks."
It's a message that a lot of people are eager to hear. As of today, Lamme says he has received about 1,300 e-mails from people looking for advice — even though his Web site is less than two weeks old.
He says a lot of the people who contact him are especially annoyed about robo-calls — automated calls received during political campaigns. Lamme says the government needs to make it easier to curb those, as well.