The music on this page is the theme from the television show "The Greatest American Hero". We thought it should be dedicated to Bob Bulmash, the man who has fought for peace and quiet in the American Home (especially at dinnertime)!
Note: This is a very old article from 1991, written when Private Citizen was in its infancy. Back in June of 1991 there were no laws to curtail the junk calls. Today Private Citizen has well over 2000 members.
When the 'Junker' Calls,
This Man Is Ready For Revenge
Mr. Bulmash Leads Charge Against Telemarketers; And They Often Pay Up.
By MICHAEL W. MILLER
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
WARRENVILLE, III.Robert Bulmash lives on a quiet suburban street with a dog, a framed picture of Frankenstein and a phone that doesn't get many sales calls. When it does, he is unfailingly polite.
"Well, this certainly is a coincidence," he typically begins, "I was just about to go out and find a subscription card for that very magazine! ... Say, are you with a telemarketing firm? Which one is that, anyway? ... Great! Listen, you did a fantastic job marketing mewhere can I send your supervisor a note?"
It sounds like a telemarketer's dream. In fact, Mr. Bulmash is the telemarketing industry's worst nightmare. He and a small army of followers, fed up with the modern epidemic of junk calls, are fighting back. Their motto Is "Leave Us Alone or Pay the Price!" Their strategy. is mischievous, ruthless and surprisingly effective.
Fee for Phoning
Mr. Bulmash instructs the 550 members of his group, Private Citizen Inc., to answer junk calls cordially and tease out all the Information they can about the Identity and location of the "junker". Then twice a year, he sends a notice to more than 800 telemarketing companies, with a list of his members and a warning on their behalf:
"I am unwilling to allow your free use of my time and telephone.... I will accept junk calls for a $100 fee, due within 30 days of such use.... Your junk call will constitute your agreement to the reasonableness of my fee."
This may sound as preposterous as billing a mosquito for biting you. But it's a potent repellent. Private Citizen members, who pay $20 a year for the service, say their junk calls drop 75% or more. As for the "invoice", it has left Sears, Roebuck & Co., ChemLawn, and a handful of other telemarketers so bemused they've actually coughed up the $100. Others, though not all, have had it dragged out of them In court. "I was called twice during yesterday's football game by people like you," said one smallclaims judge as he cheerfully ruled against PlanOSoft Water Conditioning Co.
The leader of this rebellion is an intense 45yearold paralegal with the flair of an angry standup comic, Unwilling to pay extra for an unlisted number, he lists his phone under the name "No Solicitation Stuart." He once stood outside a telemarketing convention serving a protest "Junk Food Feast" of Twinkles and Ding Dongs. "If the junk callers insist on being referred to as 'telemarketers', we'll Insist on referring to the Twinkles as 'green leafy vegetables,' he declared in a flier.
His little war, run out of his home in his spare time, has stirred up the giant telemarketing industry, where mention of the name Bulmash draws shudders of disgust.
Everyone In the industry knows Bob Bulmash," sighs Kenneth Griffin, an American Telephone & Telegraph Co. official and past head of the American Telemarketing Association. He worries that the Bulmash crusade will "regulate us and put us out of business," and adds: "I'm sorry; but we're going to defend ourselves." (In fact AT&T right now is defending itself against a $100 claim from Mr. Bulmash.)
At the other end of the telemarketing line, Mr. Bulmash is a hero. "Thanks for taking on the greatest annoyance to man since the invention of the housefly!" wrote a grateful Oregon woman who read about him in a local newspaper.
"I've gotten out of showers, off ladders, out from under my car, off the pot," declared a fan from Skokie, Ill. "You name it and one of these dunderheads has compromised me. and I want to get even." .
Every day, It seems, the Bulmash backlash gains a new ally. Peter Novosel, a Lancaster, Pa., doctor, was recently at the bedside of a patient who had just died, surrounded by bereaved family members, when his pocket voicepager suddenly blasted a recorded sweepstakes spiel into the room. ''It could not have been a more obnoxious intrusion," he says.
Kay Bryson, a property manager in MentorontheLake, Ohio, wrote Mr. Bulmash to complain about a spate of "ridiculous'' phone surveys, including one from a cosmetics company that wanted to know how long, her toenails were and which toenail was the longest. An infuriated Chicago woman wrote him to describe coming home from a Christmas vacation and finding that an outofcontrol autodialer had hogged her entire answeringmachine tape with the same message 18 times over.
Statistical research supports these anecdotes. In a 1990 national survey of telemarketing targets, 70% said they consider such calls an "invasion of privacy." Walker Research Inc. of Indianapolis conducted the survey via, of all things, random calls to U.S. telephone numbers. The survey also found that 44% of the targets considered their last telemarketing call pleasant," and 41% think telemarketing serves a "useful purpose."
All these calls are coming from an exploding industry with an awesome arsenal of new technology. American companies will spend an estimated $60 billion on telemarketing this year, up from $1 billion in 1981, says the industry association.
One especially popular purchase, all too familiar to households, is the "adramp," short for automatic dialing recorded message player. It courses like a virus through the phone system, blaring its comeon to one number after another In sequence.
Another hot new weapon is the "predictive dialer," which speeddials one number after another, sending to live agents only to those who answer the phone.
Lawmakers are starting to worry about this calling frenzy. A proposed federal law would create a national list of people who don't want junk calls, and make it illegal to telemarket them. States have also introduced some 300 bills this year curbing unsolicited sales calls.
But for now, people must dream up their own defense tactics. After running Private Citizen for three years, Mr. Bulmash has heard from telemarketing targets who have feigned massive hiccup seizures pretended to be on a runway amidst jetengine noises, cried "He just died and I'm very upset!" or said, "Just a minute, talk to my wife," and then passed the phone to the family poodle.
The Bulmash method works better. Private Citizen member Andrew Greatrex, a Maplewood. NJ, banker, billed his lawn care company $100 last fall after it called him repeatedly to offer him extra services. A few months later, he received an apologetic note from the company, ChemLawn Services Corp., agreeing to send the $100.
Just before the check arrived, Mr. Greatrex got yet another sales call from ChemLawn. "I wrote them a letter saying, 'Thanks for the check, you owe me another $100 " he says. To his delight, ChemLawn agreed to knock $100 off tits next annual lawncare bill.
Beyond the world of hassled lawn managers, many lawyers suspect the Private Citizen "contract" wouldn't stand up to strict legal scrutiny. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., sued for $100 by Mr. Bulmash, produced a 10page brief crammed with citations of precedent to argue that the Bulmash scheme doesn't create a legal contract. An Illinois smallclaims judge ruled for the insurance company. Mr. Bulmash says that's the only time his contract made it to court and failed.
Still, the System's logic has Its adherentseven among telemarketers. Seafirst Bank, based in Seattle, was one telemarketer that received the Private Citizen warning letter. Its senior counsel, William Resnik, wrote back that the bank would be "pleased'' to discuss the matter with Mr. Bulmash, for $150 per contact, plus attorneys' fees. "Any further communications from you in this regard will constitute acceptance of this offer," he added.
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