Telemarketer-Bashing Spreads Across Internet

By Leslie Gornstein
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

FORT WORTH -- Telemarketers have learned a disturbing new truth: The Internet hates them.

Some World Wide Web sites are encouraging consumers to play practical jokes on telephone salespeople. Other cyber-citizens have dreamed up games where players earn points by frustrating the callers or getting them to use profanity.

"It seems humorous on the surface, but we are in business to do business," said Jim Tressler, senior vice president of operations for TeleQuest, an Arlington-based telemarketing company, yesterday.

Some of the Web sites are just plain harsh.

"If you are a telemarketer," warns one page operated by an America Online customer, "die."

The telemarketing industry is getting wise to the plethora of hostile Internet sites -- Tressler says he has found more than 900 -- and is hoping to fight them. At a seminar yesterday for area telemarketers, Tressler gave participants a generous sample of the hate and encouraged them to broadcast a more positive message.

"This is just another way, through the back fence, of spewing false information and half-truths," Tressler said. "It's an emotional thing with me. I have earned my living this way, and I really don't know what to do about this."

At one site, Internet user Vince Nestico of Eastpointe, Mich., offers what he calls "telemarketer-tormenting techniques." For example, consumers receiving a call from a cleaning company are encouraged to ask: "Do you get goat's blood out?"

"If it's a brassy woman asking for my wife, I tell her that my wife is not permitted to talk to strangers," Nestico says on the site. "They usually get real indignant."

Nestico even advises ways to get rid of "charity collecting scum."

"He ought to get a life," mumbled one member of Tressler's audience yesterday.

Nestico could not be reached for comment yesterday.

But Bob Bulmash, president of Private Citizen, an anti-telemarketing group in Naperville, Ill., said callers are only getting what they deserve.

"Telemarketing is invasive and sociopathic," said Bulmash, who operates an online consumer education site about telemarketing. "If they feel this is bashing, it gives me a feeling of how far the industry is from reality, how thickheaded they are."

Tressler acknowledged yesterday that his industry, whose sales and employment figures are growing at an estimated 20 percent a year, must police itself to fight telemarketing fraud. But he expressed worry that the hate sites will turn off potential employees or customers.

"A lot of people, hearing that information, will draw conclusions that will create bias," Tressler said.

But Bulmash sees things differently. As long as they are lawful, Internet sites should be able to say whatever they want about telemarketing, he said.

Fraudulent or lawful, all telemarketers are wrong, he said.

"Was the South supposed to be polite to the Union army as it swept in?" Bulmash said. "This is residential privacy warfare. Is it Nazi-bashing to say Nazis are crumbs?"

  © 1997 Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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