You'll bill my telephone number?

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I made the acquaintance of commercial telemarketing long ago when I was field supervisor at a small market research company. Someone would call up to ask what sort of toner our copier used. Or to quiz me about our pencils and pens. Those calls quickly resolved themselves with "No!" and hanging up.

At the bookshop if someone asks to speak to the manager or owner and Yance answers the phone he screens them. Yance, who's never been rude to anyone in his life, tells them we don't want any. If they get me I tell them far more forcibly. Especially if they use the dirty trick of looking my or Gordon's name in a directory and asking for us by name as if they know us.

Twice recently I've received a couple calls with a sinister twist. Probably you and every other small business owner in the US has or will. The first call purported to be a survey. Having worked in market research sweat shops I'm usually willing to be kind to an interviewer. At the end of the questionnaire I was told that as a reward for my time they'd be sending me a special package. I forget what all what in it, nothing that I needed including a free website.

I was transferred to some guy who was going to verify my address. Still thinking I was helping a legit telephone interviewer I put up with it. The fellow said he'd be recording the conversation for quality control purposes. You hear that on almost every automated system so it didn't set off an alarm.

The catch: if at the end of 30 days that I didn't want any of it they'd add their monthly charge to my telephone bill. Needless to say I loudly and rudely told him where he could shove it all.

This morning a woman called to verify my shop's directory listing. In what directory I didn't catch because of background noise. I assumed it was someone like Superpages. Once she'd verified Books Do Furnish A Room's address and phone number she started telling me about the amazing 'free' package I'd be getting. Same deal: my telephone number would be billed if I didn't call to cancel after 30 days.

If this had been my credit card I wouldn't have been surprised. Billing if you fail to cancel has been a part of book clubs and magazine subscriptions for decades. Recently sellers of bogus herbal supplements have added it to their indecent arsenal. My phone bill? Opens up a vast new opportunity for scams and petty thievery.

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Richard Evans Lee
You'll bill my telephone number?
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