TeleZapper, Telemarketers, and the TCPA

By Bland Inquisitor

The story so far...

Telemarketers, the people who are truly guilty of exploiting the phone systems for immoral gains, have been the bane of dinner times across America for as long as I can remember.  I hope in this article to: explain how telemarketers work, inform you of procedures that can be used to help you regain some privacy, and save you $50.00 for something that, if worked, would have been invented five years ago by one of us.


First of all, and this is very important: the telemarketer is not your enemy!  The telemarketer, or as they are coldly known in the business "monkey-with-a-script," is just some underpaid person with a crap job.  Telling this person that you'd like to do to their grandmother what you've already done to their sister isn't going to help anything at all.  He hates his job just like the rest of us.  There are better ways, my friends.  That aside, here's how the system works.

The business that is calling uses an autodialer that is capable of calling over 500,000 numbers in a working day.  When a connection is made, one of three things will happen:

  1. If a fax or modem answers, the action is logged, and the connection is broken.
  2. If nobody answers, or the number is disconnected, the number is removed from the number cache of that particular machine, but for only a limited time as we will see later.
  3. You answer, and get the sales pitch.

If you answer, sometimes you don't get a person right away.  When you hear some clicks (which always makes me feel a little self-important), it's what "they" call predictive dialing.  Basically every telemarketer or Telephone Sales Representative (TSR for short) in a telemarketing firm is responsible for talking to the consumer when they answer their phones, and when all the TSRs are talking to people, you get put on hold (TSRs get paid by the hour, so their time is costing the firm money, whereas when we sit there on hold it's free).  At this point, you're busted.  If you can sense that you're about to be telemarketed and just hang up, the dialer just logs what time at which you answered, and tells itself to call you back later (preferably when you're in the bathroom.)

Since this is the point in the phone call you know you are about to talk to a TSR, it is worth repeating how important it is to resist the urge to unleash your frustrations to him.  It will not help.  Of all the things your brain is telling you to say to this poor person, please remain calm.

How to Decrease Telemarketing Calls (For Free)

In 1991, a bill called the Telephone Consumers Protection Act (TCPA) was passed.  This act was supposed to keep you safe and free of unwanted calls, but by the time the corporations had their say, very little of this bill remained to protect us.  The upside is that there are still a few bits of useful information hidden in the jargon, and some of the protective devices made it through.

First, when a telemarketer makes a pause in the conversation, tell him/her, "Please place me on your do-not-call list."  Also, one of the rights we are entitled to by the TCPA is the ability to ask the telemarketer for a written copy of their "Do Not Call" policy.  Most telemarketers have never heard of such a thing and, more importantly, if they refuse to provide you with a hard copy of it, you can sue them for $500.00.  This money would be, in theory, easier to get than it would be to pin them with some violation of FCC policy.  The telemarketing companies have a pat defense in small claims court for this type of thing, but if you have a major obsession for getting some of that telcom cash back, you can order the book So You Want to Sue a Telemarketer" for $10 from Private Citizen at 1-800-CUT-JUNK.  I have no affiliation with Private Citizen and I'm pretty sure that if you're going to go through with suing someone, you'll probably need to know more than their book teaches you.  Incidentally, if the call is before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. it outside the TCPA guidelines and you can also sue.

Next, ask the telemarketer if he works for a firm that makes telemarketing calls, or if he works for the company whose product he is selling.  Hardly any large corporation makes telemarket calls "in-house."  It is way too easy to hire someone.  This works out to your advantage, however, as you will most assuredly ask his company to place you on its do-not-call list, which will supposedly, under the guidelines of the TCPA, eliminate any calls from that company for the next five to ten years.

If you prefer the direct approach to get your name off telemarketing lists, write to:

Direct Marketing Association
Telephone Preference Service
P.O. Box 9014 
Farmingdale, NY 11735-9014

You have to give them your name, address, and phone number.  In your memo to them, say that you do not wish to be telemarketed by them and that you know that you will be removed from their list in five years and that re-registration with them will be necessary at that time.

To take your name out of the databases that get sold to telemarketing companies, send a letter to:

Database America
Attn: Opt-outs
470 Chestnut Ridge Rd.
Woodcliff Lake, NJ 07677-7604

In your letter to them, be sure to tell them not to provide any entity with information about anyone in your household and to never send any unsolicited mail to your address, and that all conditions are to remain until they are notified by you in writing.

The TeleZapper: Corporate America's Phreak Box

The TeleZapper has been described as a way to keep telemarketers from bothering you by playing a little beep that tells the computers that call you that your number has been disconnected.  The first red flag that this description sends up for me is insulting the general public with some ambiguous method of operation.  Let me translate for you.  The TeleZapper emits a 914 Hz tone (the disconnect tone), after a connection is made between lines, theoretically fooling an autodialer into placing your number into the pile of disconnected numbers and not calling you back.  The reality is far from that.

The TeleZapper does, in fact, send out the disconnect tone when a telemarketer calls you.  It also sends out the disconnect tone when your friends and family call you.  No matter what you may think, you don't get near as many TSR calls as you get legitimate calls.  The best thing to do is to go to Google and run a search for "S.I.T tone".  Now you are on to something.  The S.I.T or Special Information Tone, is that increasing in frequency boop-boop-boop you hear just before "The number you dialed is no longer in service...."  Once you have the S.I.T, you should record this on the first of you answering machine greeting, so when an autodialer gets your machine, it will place your number in the disconnected pile and won't call back until the company refreshes their contact list next week.  But you'll only have to deal with this until your requests have been processed by the companies you wrote to earlier.  Incidentally, the TeleZapper is fast becoming outdated.  Some telemarketing computers are totally unaffected by the TeleZapper, and there are even a few telemarketing firms that are experimenting with voice cadence systems.  Like I said above, the telemarketing companies refresh their contact lists every week.  So even if your TeleZapper saves your from talking to a TSR, the odds are that you will be contacted again when the new calling cycles are activated.

I hope this article has helped shed some light on the TeleZapper, and on how the telemarketing businesses are operated.

Thanks to: Debug, They Might Be Giants,,