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Back in 2003, the federal government started the Do Not Call Registry. When you add your name to it, telemarketers are barred from calling you and while the list is considered a success, lots of telemarketing calls still slip through. Enough to push one man into developing a whole new strategy for fighting back.
NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.
JIM ZARROLI: 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.
ANDRE: So what they do is they call and call and they don't take no for an answer. You know, 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 compared to your area and I really think that you might be interested.
ZARROLI: Lamme is a 38-year-old computer consultant who lives in Sacramento. He had placed his name on the National Do Not Call Registry and he knew that telemarketers weren't supposed to be calling 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.
LAMME: Generally the reaction that I get back is one of several things. You are a money grubber who does nothing more than file lawsuits because you don't have a real life.
ZARROLI: So let me get this straight - they're saying that you are money grubbing?
LAMME: Correct. Because I'm filing a lawsuit against them.
ZARROLI: So far Lamme has sued four companies, and he has received about $6100.
LAMME: One suit, they had so many violations that it was a $4500 amount, and their reaction is: just because you received a few phone calls you didn't want, I'm supposed to pay you money?
ZARROLI: NPR contacted three of the telemarketers sued by Lamme and none wanted to comment for this story. But the Direct Marketing Association which represents telemarketers did respond.
Executive Vice President Jerry Cerasale says people who are bothered by persistent callers do indeed have the right to sue in small claims court, just as Lamme says. And Cerasale says telemarketers who don't respect people's privacy are probably asking for it.
JERRY CERASALE: From our point of view, marketers should follow the law, and if not, they can be sued.
ZARROLI: But Cerasale also insists that unwanted telemarketing calls have fallen off sharply since the introduction of the Do Not Call Registry.
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.
JACK GILLIS: It requires a lot of effort, but it will pay off in terms of sending a signal to those folks that are violating the Do Not Call list, that there are at least some consumers willing to take action.
ZARROLI: Andre-Tascha Lamme adds that he's simply trying to give people the tools to fight back if they want to.
LAMME: The whole idea is, I'm sick of the calls, you're sick of the calls. These are your rights. Go learn them. Take back your bloody phone from these folks.
ZARROLI: It's a message that a lot of people are eager to hear. As of today, Lamme says he has received about 1300 e-mails from people looking for advice - even though the Web site is less than two weeks old. He says a lot of the people who contact him are especially annoyed about those robo-calls you get during political campaigns. And Lamme says the government needs to make it easier to curb those, as well.
Jim Zarroli, NPR News. New York.
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