12 August 2010


We are being terrorised by a marketing drive that is little short of criminal. It's time we did something about it, says Susan Erasmus.

We are being terrorised by a marketing drive that is little short of criminal. It's time we did something about it, says Susan Erasmus.

If it isn't illegal to phone me on my private number and try and sell me stuff I don't want, then it should be.

Everyone's had their rant about tele-marketers and their uncanny ability to phone at the worst time imaginable (in the bath, in the middle of a fight, in the last minute of a scary whodunnit). The terror of the 'unknown' number and some stranger enquiring about your welfare.

"Hello. Is that Susan Erasmus? How are you?" are words that have become as frightening to me as "Give me your bag! I have a knife".

Everyone has their stories about how to cut short these calls, despite the astonishing persistence of the tele-marketers.

It's a full-scale war

Let's hold still for a moment and think of the call-centre operatives themselves. Or cannon fodder as I think of them. Because this is a war. A full-scale bloody war for my money. And companies are prepared to send the young and innocent into the frontlines to achieve their dark aims of scratching together a few more pennies for their already bloated war chests.

What must it be like to be rejected by hundreds of angry strangers every day? How many successful sales do these poor youngsters, desperate to pay the rent, make in a week? I think the life of a streetwalker could be easier. I doubt if they receive trauma counselling, but they should. I am never rude to anybody, but I make an exception for tele-marketers who have just woken me up or got me to jump out of the bath in order to answer my cellphone.

Let's get one thing straight here: my cellphone is primarily for my convenience, and possibly for that of my friends, family and colleagues. It is private territory. The number does not appear anywhere in a directory.  It is not there as an instrument of torture by means of which I am to be solicited for endless (further!) cellphone contracts or life insurance.

The culprits

The only companies/institutions to whom I have given my cellphone number are ABSA, FNB, Telkom, Vodacom, my security company (I don't suspect them), the municipality and my employer. One of them has clearly sold my details on to a third party, because I am receiving in the region of 10 – 12 unwanted calls per week. This selling on of personal details I frankly find to be not only immoral, but truly disgusting. It should be illegal. It's time for a name-and-shame campaign.

So what can we do to stop this full-on tele-terrorist onslaught? I did register to have my name removed from the database on some website. The number of calls has been reduced by about a third. That is not enough. I want them to stop completely.

OK. So what do I want?

1. I never want to be asked by a complete stranger how I am, ever again.

2. I want the companies who phone me to tell me where they got my number if I ask them to tell me. Some vague reference to a database is just not good enough.

3. I want to know that if I ask a tele-marketer to remove my name from their list that they do so. If they phone me again two weeks later, I want compensation to the tune of R10 000.

4. I want to be put through to a real, live manager if I request to speak to one.

5. I would like the tele-marketing bosses to spend a week on the telephone to see what they put their staff through – because they truly have no idea.

6. I would like to be able to administer an electric shock to the person who sold my cellphone number every time I am phoned by a tele-marketer.

7. I would like every single South African to undertake never to answer any cellphone call ever again that does not display the full number of the caller. That's what voicemail is there for.

8. I would like this type of tele-terrorism to be made illegal and a couple of examples made of tele-marketing bosses (I am not thinking community service – I am thinking 10 years without the possibility of parole. After all, I see them as intruders into my private property and they are after my money).

And if, in the highly unlikely event that I want MORE life insurance or ANOTHER cellphone contract, I would like to be credited with sufficient intelligence that I can get the relevant company's number from the telephone directory and call them myself. I am sure I could do that. I run a household, and hold down a job. This should be a piece of cake. Don't call me, I'll call you.

Come on guys. We hosted a successful SWC. Don't tell me as a nation we can't get rid of these tele-terrorists. What we need to do is not to suffer in silence or alone. Aluta continua. Have to run, my phone is ringing.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, July 2010)


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