On August 3, 2011, a reader sent me the following email in response to my column: Consumer Outrage With Diabetes Telemarketer Tactics and the Federal Do Not Call Registry (Street Sweeper, March 23, 2011)
I just found the blog entry you wrote on the Forbes website about diabetes telemarketing calls. This issue has been a pet peeve of mine for years, not only because of just how many calls I get, but because there seems to be so little information about the phenomenon online. It seems every few months, I'll get dozens of calls from a handful of numbers. I send reports to the FTC when I think can gather enough information for them, but I never hear back. And yes, I google the numbers too, and get results similar to yours.
In just the past few months, when googling things like "diabetes telemarketing" I find a lot of sites offering seminars on how to direct market to diabetics. Your blog entry is the first time I have found anything close to a mainstream source talking about the problem. Usually I just get a few scattered results from people complaining on forums. It really does seem to me like the government should be able to track down and fine the myriad of companies who do this. The telephone numbers obviously have to be registered to someone, right? Is our economy really so bad that the people making these calls need those jobs, so we allow this loophole to the Do Not Call list?
I'd love to hear if you've found out anything more on the issue.
Following receipt of Philip's email, I sent the Federal Trade Commission's Office of Public Affairs this message:
To: opa firstname.lastname@example.org
Sent: Thu, Aug 4, 2011 9:20 am
Subject: Follow-up on Forbes' "Street Sweeper" Article from Bill Singer
TO: Federal Trade Commission, Office of Public Affairs
FR: Bill Singer, Forbes' "Street Sweeper" Column
RE: Follow-up of March 23, 2011 Column: "Consumer Outrage With Diabetes Telemarketer Tactics and the Federal Do Not Call Registry" at http://blogs.forbes.com/billsinger/2011/03/23/ftc-do-not-call-diabetes-diabetic/
To Whom It May Concern:
Since March 2011 I have received several queries from readers of my "Street Sweeper" column complaining of ongoing calls from "(302) 752-1422". Many of the callers are on the federal Do Not Call list and have no prior relationship with the caller, which appears to be some diabetic supplies company. As the details of that situation are fully set out in the above referenced article, I will not reiterate the circumstances but respectfully refer you to the provided URL.
I would note that the March 23rd column ends with this commentary:
The Street Sweeper ActsIn researching this story, I located the FTC's Do Not Call website and filed a written complaint. After that, I telephoned the FTC's Do Not Call toll free number of (888) 382-1222 and filed a second complaint.Frankly, I was somewhat discouraged by the FTC's customer service operation because, try as I might, I just couldn't seem to find a way to communicate with a human being. Moreover, amidst reports that government funding is a tad tight these days, I had that troubling feeling that my written and telephone complaints might not get much (if any) attention. I mean, after all, according to all the online data, folks have been complaining to the FTC and state agencies since July 2010 about this one telephone number.Ultimately, I telephoned the FTC's Office of Public Affairs in my highly-vaunted role as the Street Sweeper blogger for Forbes. In response to that message, a spokesperson for the Office of Public Affairs informed me that the story I had related was distressing and that consumers should promptly contact the FTC with their information. Moreover, I was assured that the matter I had presented would be forwarded to appropriate FTC staff.Okay . . . umm, sure, why not? Let's see what, if anything, arises from all the accumulated complaints and my persistence. Stay tuned.
In the ensuing four-plus months since I contacted the FTC's OPA, I have not had any follow-up from your organization concerning its inquiry, if any, into the matter presented. I would note that a visit to the telephone monitoring sites previously cited in my article will now reflect increasing numbers of complaints since the date of the article's publication and my conversation with OPA. Many of those sites contain posted messages from consumers that are unflattering about the FTC's failure to timely and meaningfully respond or take action.
Having clearly expressed skepticism in the column about the FTC's commitment to enforcing the Do Not Call list and its regulation of calls from the specific medical supplies company at issue, I am not certain that my concerns were unjustified. In an effort to present you with a meaningful opportunity to address the issues raised in the article and which I intend to once again re-visit in the next few days, I welcome any written reply. You are also welcome to contact me at [phone number].
Bill Singer's Comment
If you visit the 800Notes site, you will find that the 35 pages of consumer complaints noted in March 2011 has now mushroomed to 44. If you visit the WhoCallsMe site, you will find that the 8-pages of consumer complaints noted in March 2001 is now 9.
Since the FTC / OPA's initial response to my article in March 2011, I have had no further communication from that FTC office. Moreover, given the current status of posted consumer complaints about the subject phone number, it doesn't appear that the FTC has done anything of consequence.
Ultimately, isn't this exactly what we've all been angry about in recent months? We pay taxes. Our taxes go to hire government employees. Those employees are allocated to various government organizations. However, when we contact those organizations, frequently, we get the runaround. It's often impossible to get a human being to take your complaint. When you do, no one seems to follow up - as if the whole consumer hotline thing is simply a way to let us vent. When you press an executive of these government organizations for an explanation as to the apparent incompetency, the answers are typically the same: budget crunch, hiring freeze, we're overwhelmed, we can't comment on ongoing investigations, we're investigating, and so on.
In the end, we all come away despondent about the lack of value obtained by our tax dollars; and we're left to wonder if this is the best that our hard-earned bucks can buy, then maybe it's just as effective to abolish the government organization in question. I mean, seriously, tell me, what has the FTC done since March 2011 about the unwanted calls highlighted in this article?
If I ever hear back from the FTC, I'll be happy to post their response.
READ: Consumer Outrage With Diabetes Telemarketer Tactics and the Federal Do Not Call Registry (Street Sweeper, March 23, 2011)
On August 9, 2011, the following email appeared in my in box:
To: rrbdlawyer <redacted>
Sent: Tue, Aug 9, 2011 2:08 am
Subject: Response to your complaint Ref No. 31878568
Thank you for contacting the Federal Trade Commission. Please find attached information that may assist you.
My, how substantive and helpful (yes, that's dripping sarcasm!). I am sent a reply from the FTC concerning a matter that I first brought to that agency's attention in March 2011 and which related consumer complaints about a company that was apparently non-compliant with the Do Not Call rules since at least July 2010. And how does the FTC undertake its role as a consumer watchdog? Oh, truly wonderful - they send me an email from a box with an address to which I am admonished not to reply!
But wait . . . there is an attached file from the FTC's "Consumer Response Center." That's encouraging. I can't wait to open that document and learn about all that the FTC has done in over a year since its receipt of numerous consumer complaints about the possibly abusive telemarketing from (302) 752-1422. Maybe the FTC will even thank me for bringing this troubling issue to its attention some five months ago?
Bill? Bill?? Why that crazed look in your eyes???