Revenge On A Telemarketing Scam

Few things annoy me as much as deceptive, high-pressure sales tactics. You know, the guys in boiler rooms that cold-call you at home during the dinner hour, offer you come-ons that are too good to be true, and are vague about what they're selling. Salesmen whose friendliness and enthusiasm are as genuine as a Meg Ryan orgasm.

I got one of these calls a few days ago. I had "won" a free vacation trip to Las Vegas, including airfare and a hotel stay. Now Vegas doesn't really interest me that much, but for some reason I didn't just hang up on this caller like I have many others. Their choice of Vegas intrigued me. What better way to entice people who think they can get something for nothing? It's just like the W. C. Fields movie title: you can't cheat an honest man.

From memory, the conversation proceeded something like this:

"What are you selling?"

"We're not selling anything". [Yeah, sure. He knows if I fall for this line, he's got a real prospect.]

"Why are you doing this? What do I have to do?"

"We're just trying to make people aware of our company and products. Just come down to our office and see what we are, and you will also be entered into a contest for a Jeep! No obligation!" [Uh huh. I'll hold him to that.]

"That's it?"

"We'd also like you to attend a 20-minute presentation on our company while you're here. [Ah ha - the catch!] "You should bring two forms of ID, but you don't have to bring any money!" [Just a pen for signing my life away, right?]

"Uh, OK." [What the hell. I'm feeling bored and a little mischevious. Maybe I can have some fun with these bozos.]

The caller told me to come Saturday at noon, and gave directions to their address. The conversation ended.

Saturday morning I'm wondering whether I should actually waste my time and go. What the hell -- I have other stuff I can do in that area of town. I can just bring my laptop and catch up on a few documents during their presentation.

So I go. The outfit is in a small shopping/light commercial area. I present the "confirmation letter" I'd received to the lady at the front desk. She checks ID and sends me into a room with two dozen other nibbling fish who are already watching a slick video. The lights are down. I finally learn what the company is selling: timeshare vacations. Scam city! I've heard so many horror stories about these things that now I know I'm not interested.

I haul out the laptop and start to read some Internet drafts. The presentation belongs on cable TV at 4 AM. I do my best to ignore it.

The taped presentation ends and the lights come on. It's time for the in-person pitch. A guy comes out and tries to rouse the audience. "You're a great audience!" Not much enthusiasm. "You're all really great, even the guy who's looking at his computer instead of me!" I continue to ignore him and the few who turn to look at me. He goes on for a minute or two, then says they've got some sort of technical problem and that we should wait outside for a few minutes.

Yeah, it probably was a "technical problem" alright: this droid had hit an unresolved symbol in his programming. After all, the fine print in the letter said I only had to attend their presentation to get my free Vegas vacation. It didn't say I actually had to pay attention to it!

We go out into a cafe-like area to wait. I meet and chat for a while with a couple from my company. Eventually we get herded back into the room and a woman comes in to resume the in-person pitch. (Maybe this droid model has more ROM.) She resumes the hard-sell, interacting rapidly with a very enthusiastic prospect in the front row -- an obvious shill. She passes out brochures. I place mine on the next seat and resume reading my laptop. She turns back and asks across the room if I'm going to use my brochure. "No", I call back, "and how long do I have to stay to get my free Vegas vacation, because I have absolutely no interest in buying a time-share."

The droid hesitates. This part of her programming isn't fully debugged. She says "Well, it's a 90-minute presentation". (The guy on the phone had clearly said 20.) "But if you have someplace to go, you can." Obviously she doesn't want me crimping her style. I say thanks and head out to the lobby. In turn they direct me to a guy in a back room with a desk, a phone, and an enormous stock of cheap portable radios -- apparently more "free gifts". I wait outside the room. A woman goes in and tells him to give me my vacation voucher. I also overhear her express some uncertainty: "...I dunno...this has never happened before..."

In a few minutes, I have my voucher and I leave. Much easier and quicker than expected. Success! Was it worth it? I dunno. I may not even use the voucher. But I was satisfied to have called their bluff. And quite surprised to apparently be the first.

Why do bozos like these exist? Most people aren't stupid or even very gullible. Their real weakness is being too polite. They'll do much to avoid embarrassing themselves or others. This is usually a desirable trait, but to outfits like Cozenage Vacation Cottages (not their real name), it's a weakness to be exploited. And so my gloves came off. I see no need to be particularly nice or compliant to someone who interrupts me at dinner with a guileful sales pitch. Perhaps if enough people called their bluff, they'd stop. Or perhaps not. But in the meantime, I can have some fun with them.