Wrong numbers

FI-Joe-PisaniBased on my own scientific survey, I calculate that 81% of the calls we get are from people who want money. Therefore I’ve taken decisive action and stopped answering the phone.

Now, of the people asking for money, I estimate that 5% are insurance agents, 10% are my daughters and 85% are just paid professional telemarketers with degrees in fund-raising, who typically give 20% or less of what they raise to the actual charities they claim to represent with the rest going to their companies for tuition reimbursement to help employees who want to pursue Ph.D.’s in phone solicitation.

There are exceptions, of course. Sometimes the telemarketers aren’t paid professionals. They’re students.

And who can resist a call from an enthusiastic college sophomore, telling you higher education will collapse if you don’t make a hefty donation to the library expansion or the faculty beer fund or to buy pompons for the cheerleaders?

I often get solicitations from schools I attended, including a Jesuit university, a Marist high school and Humpty Dumpty Nursery School, not to mention the Dirty Paws Dog Obedience Academy even though the dog and I flunked out. While I’m sure these are “worthy causes” — as they say in the charity world — the constant calls are annoying. Thanks to them, the phone system is becoming as bad as the U.S. Postal Service, which made junk mail an American institution.

Most of the time, you can throw your mail away without opening it because someone is always asking for something. However, when the appeals include a dollar bill to get my attention, I take the dollar and, in the interests of honest charity, I put it in the poor box at church.

A while back, we had a harrowing experience at home. A telemarketer called us for three months straight, in the morning and in the evening, during breakfast and dinner and at bedtime. We didn’t answer and, between midnight and 5 a.m., she probably drove by the house to see if we were home.

When my daughter finally picked up the phone, she flipped out on the poor woman, who was probably making $7 an hour, while her firm’s CEO was pulling down $1.5 million.

“Stop calling this !#@#%!! number!” she yelled. As a reasonable compromise, I suggested the woman should instead start calling my daughter’s cell-phone.

The truth is that I want to be charitable and kind to my fellow man, and woman. That includes telemarketers. It’s just that I have a problem giving money to people when only a fraction of it goes to the charity. We’re a nation of givers, but we don’t want the gift to pay for solicitation fees.

Even though we’re on the “do not call” list, there are so many loopholes that anyone who claims to be a charity can evade the regulations, including the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Republicans and the National Institute for the Preservation of Baby Boomers. At least the Jehovah’s Witnesses have the courtesy to knock on the door and smile and not ask for money. You have to respect that.

During the political season, it gets even worse when Democrats and Republicans start hassling us for cash, our vote and our opinion in the cause of a free democracy. Whoever thought the democratic process could be so annoying?

And Caller ID doesn’t help screen the calls because telemarketers conceal themselves like CIA spies and sneak under the radar. The caller is usually identified as “Courtesy Call,” “Maintenance,” “Name Not Found,” “Unknown Name,” “Toll Free Call,” “Unavailable U.S. Institute,” “Psycho Stalker” or “Daughter in Need of A Loan.”

When I look at the phone bill and calculate how much my land line costs, including U.S., state and local taxes, service fees and sewer line hookups, I have to conclude it’s not worth the expense because most of the calls we get are appeals for cash.

I’ve already gotten rid of the TV set. Can the telephone be far behind?


Joe Pisani may be reached at [email protected]

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