Terrorised by telemarketers

HELLO, we note you have almost finished paying off your loan, and would like to offer you a free top-up,” said my caller, ostensibly a telemarketing representative from a bank I use.

“A free top-up? What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, since you have been a good customer and have almost paid off your loan, we would like to top-up your loan by lending you up to the same amount again,” he said.

And that is a free top-up? No thanks! Was the word “free” supposed to induce me to say “yes”?

I blew my top. The absurdity of the way the offer was couched, coupled by it being the third call I received from a telemarketer that day, riled me.

What made it worse was that in all the calls, they had asked to speak to me by my full name, which I use only on official documents and for banking purposes. I do not use it at work or in any other area of my life.

So when a caller asked for me by my full name, my first thought was something had gone wrong with my account.

Then, came the stupid question: “Do you have a credit card with XYZ bank?”

Hey! If you are calling from my bank, shouldn’t you know whether or not I have a credit card with the bank?

“Oh! We are offering you quick cash or a balance transfer facility at 8.5% per annum with which you can save ...”

There have also been many such calls to offer bank loans, insurance coverage for personal accidents, medical or hospitalisation schemes and even time-share vacation clubs.

I have even come across some obviously outsourced telemarketing companies offering credit cards or loans from any bank you like, because they claim to represent all banks. Unbelievable!

I am sick of telemarketers. And I am sure I am not the only one tired of being harassed or even terrorised by unknown people who have somehow gotten hold of my personal data, which they think gives them the right to call up and make all sorts of offers.

Lets get real! Personal data like my full name and contact number were most apparently given out by some of the banks I use, because I only use my full name for such matters.

Who else could have given them to telemarketers for insurance companies, hotel saver memberships, and time-share companies, etc?

I must say some are polite and considerate and ask first if it is convenient to talk, but some do not seem to care if you are driving, at lunch or in the middle of a meeting, or discussion.

The worst are those who start spitting out their sales pitch like a machine gun the moment you answer your phone, going off like a bullet train, before screeching to a halt only when they want to ask if you would like to sign up.

Usually, I try to be polite and tell them I am not interested as I already have what they are offering. Occasionally, I would ask the telemarketer if he or she is from an outsourced service, but few admit to it and many claim to be in-house staff.

On one occasion, however, a telemarketer provided me an opportunity to test her denial that she was from an outsourced outfit calling on behalf of their client.

She had claimed she was calling from a particular hotel and was offering me a membership which provides for a free room and discounts for food and beverages at its F&B outlets.

When I politely turned her down, she asked if I had friends I could recommend to her to share the fantastic deal her hotel was offering.

I told her to hang on a minute, and then gave her the names and phone numbers of the hotel’s general manager and public relations manager – for which she profusely thanked me for providing the potential clients and promised to share the big deal with them.

That proved my strong suspicion that my personal data was in the hands of outsourced third parties. Hopefully, the hotel GM and PR manager used the opportunity to gauge the effectiveness of their outsourced telemarketing service and enjoyed the experience.

I am only talking about the telemarketing menace, but be aware that your personal data could be easily abused and put to fraudulent use, depending on the ingenuity of the crooks who have access to it.

So the big question is, why has the Personal Data Protection Act which was passed by Parliament in May 2010 and gazetted in June the same year, not been enforced after two whole years?

Enforcement would at least put some form of safeguard in place for the protection of people’s personal data, in the form of deterrent penalties.

Under the Act, those who abuse personal data are liable to be fined up to RM500,000 or jailed up to three years upon conviction, depending on the severity of the offence.

In any case, the new law is lacking in some aspects, such as providing for a Do Not Call Registry to tackle the telemarketing menace.

In some countries like the US, people who are harassed by telemarketers, can ask for their phone numbers to be put on the Do Not Call list of which telemarketing firms are barred from calling.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have this sort of defence against harassment by telemarketers?

Freddie Ng is managing editor of theSun. Comments: fred@thesundaily.com