Telemarketing: Spam or Scam?

When somebody wants to communicate with someone else, what are one of the ways to contact them without sending a message on the Internet? Naturally, calling them by phone would be one of the most common options, but how about during the days before cellphones (and later smartphones) back in the 1990s and 2000s (in some cases)? Prior to smartphones and cellphones usage becoming commonplace, not to mention before the World Wide Web (WWW) became widely ubiquitous in everyday life, the best way to get a hold of somebody over the phone was to use a payphone. Of course, pagers did exist back in those days, but they were only good for conveying brief messages, not a conversation between two people. Seriously, who remembers the days of payphones and pagers?

I am mentioning this information here on The Fourth Estate because one of the job offers that I had received earlier this week was related to telemarketing. For those wondering, I rejected the offer, even if it did involve me being paid less than $20 USD on an hourly basis. What I was going to do is place some well-timed calls here and there about whatever somebody else was selling, leaving a voicemail message or perhaps maybe even a greeting to whoever answers on the other end. Chances are, the numbers that I might be calling will not be residential phone numbers registered to home phones. They could just as easily be phone numbers registered to cellphones or smartphones.

For the latter, I can imagine why nobody would want to answer their cellphone or smartphone as frequently as their home phone. Even in these days of caller id, I am sure most telemarketing calls are listed by the caller id as “Scam Likely.” The name itself, for anyone receiving the call, conjures ideas of being contacted for an offer that is too good to be true. That is probably my personal assumption if I was the one being called. But if I was one calling, however, my perspective changes because I am dealing with the fact that the person on the other end is more suspicious of my intentions to contact them. I would not be surprised if most people being called by a telemarketer were led to believe that they were a scammer, rather than somebody being paid by the hour to place these calls.

Ten years ago, when I was still researching the ideas that later went into the Work-Standard, it was considerably rare for me to receive telemarketing calls on my smartphone. I have had a few smartphones over the last decade, and it was unusual for anyone to be calling me. More often than not, I was the one who made the calls. And so I did find it rather unusual for me to begin receiving telemarketing calls in recent years. I recalled receiving such calls around 2017 or 2018 because, prior to those two years, it used to have been far more common for telemarketers to call my house phone. Nowadays, it is far easier to expect my smartphone to be contacted by telemarketers. I do not answer their calls nor they leave any messages for me in my voicemail.

Personally, while I did use a payphone at one point in my childhood, I never felt the need to actually use them. Even if I were to find some genuine need for them, the 2000s were the last time that anyone could easily locate one. Much like the pager and the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant), the payphone is no longer common mode of communications. But at the same time, I also have a feeling that payphones are probably the best way to call somebody without having to deal with spam from telemarketers, especially in the middle of a phone call. I find it difficult to imagine a telemarketer in the 1990s or 2000s calling a random payphone somewhere. That payphone, wherever it is, could be in the middle of nowhere, inside a urban subway station or at a rural gas station. And even when it rings, I doubt that anyone would bother to answer it.

I can also imagine a similar experience with pagers because if I never found the need to use a payphone, I never owned a pager either. What I can say is that it would be difficult to imagine telemarketers trying contact somebody on their pager. It is far easier to imagine them sending an automated text message to somebody on their smartphone, however. Since neither payphones nor pagers are practical for telemarketing purposes, the same should also be true for genuine instances of scammers using those means of communications.

Like I said, I never accepted that job offer to do telemarketing calls on an hourly basis. It was not worth the time or the energy to do so. I felt that my efforts should be focused on the more meaningful endeavors. Whether we consider it as spam or scam, I am certain that telemarketing is a recent phenomenon that came as the result of greater ownership of cellphones and access to digital messaging.

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