A new theory: They ARE working for themselves!

Posted April 23, 2009 by jim c
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everybody_marketingHad an interesting email exchange with internet thinker, Clay Shirky. He suggested that Porsche might NOT have been lying when she told me she was working for herself. Clay says this is part of the trend in industry to outsource tasks to a crowd (“crowdsource“).

Here’s what Clay said:

“That’s where most of the ‘work from home’ links lead to…since no one who signs up to work from home cares about what they’ll be working on, there’s no real way to figure out which of the franchise telework operations are handling the warranty calls by searching.”

This is part of the thesis behind Clay’s influential book, Here Comes Everybody, which continues to help explain the big societal shifts we’re seeing.  Clay:

It used to be that when we saw coordinated activity, we assumed a formal organization was behind it.
Now, because coordination can come from tools instead of managers, you can get organization without organizations.

If Clay’s right, how can the FTC possibly enforce the Consumer Protection Act or even the Do Not Call list when there’s no central organization to charge?

The plot continues to thicken.

PS Thanks to Absurd Delight for the compliments. That blog also has links to some funny YouTube videos of people responding to these callers in what AD calls a “less journalistic” manner than me.

Tracking down the company

Posted April 22, 2009 by jim c
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Hello Buzzfeed readers! Please post stories of your experiences with these calls in the comments here and I’ll make a post out of them.

That Buzzfeed post pointed to a Reddit user (via BoingBoing Gadgets), who dug up info on what that user says is the company behind the calls. The name they came up with? National Auto Warranty Services, Inc aka US Fidelis, Inc.

I spoke with a guy from the Federal Trade Commission today and I asked him about the company. He said he can’t comment on whether a company is under investigation or not, but he was familiar with Fidelis. He also confirmed that any company calling a cell phone is violating the Consumer Protection Act and it’s the FTC’s job to go over such companies.

Stay tuned for more updates.

—–UPDATE:

It is NOT clear if that company is the one implicated. I just spoke to their press person and she told me that they stopped doing what they call “predictive” dialing a year ago. She also said it’s possible that a rival company is improperly using Fidelis’ name.

It’s important to note that the Reddit claim about the company involved has no evidence to back it up and until that happens we shouldn’t point fingers.

“Factory warranty” call interrupts congress

Posted April 21, 2009 by jim c
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I was digging around for more info on this story and came across a transcript of a congressional hearing that was actually interrupted by the very calls this blog is tracking. Can you believe that? Here’s what happened on March 10 during a subcommittee hearing on “making health care work for American families,” featuring Rep. Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ).congress2

— REP. SARBANES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you all for being here.

…So if you could speak to that just a little bit more and maybe comment on the notion of having the design of the insurance be driven by the kind of providers that we’re trying to bring, you know, if we build it they will come kind of concept, because I could make the argument that we should choose the insurance model based on

— TELEPHONE OPERATOR: This is the second notice that the factory warranty on your vehicle may have expired and should be reactivated to protect you against the cost of repairs.

REP. SARBANES: I don’t know what that is. I’m going to talk through this, okay? We should pick the insurance model based on wanting to get more primary care providers in that. So what will incentivize them to do that? If you want to wait until that stops you can.

REP. PALLONE: I’m sorry. I don’t know exactly what’s going on.

REP. SARBANES: There we go.

REP. PALLONE: Hold on. Does somebody have their phone on or — I guess it’s over.

REP. SARBANES: I think it stopped, yeah.

REP. PALLONE: All right. We’ll continue.

CALL 2: What’s the model?

Posted April 20, 2009 by jim c
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car_wreckAfter my last experience, I thought maybe they’d take me off the list. But no. 2 days later I get the same lady speaking in the same urgent tones telling me I only have one more chance to renew the warranty on my vehicle.

I press 1 again and get through to a representative. This time it’s a guy and he has an Indian accent:

HIM: Do you want to renew your warranty?
ME: I’d love to.
HIM: What model is your car?
ME: I don’t actually have a car. Does that matter?
HIM: What model is your car?
ME: I don’t actually have a car. But I might buy one.
HIM: What year is the car?
ME: I don’t have it yet.
HIM: What year is your Dodge car?
ME: I don’t actually have a car. But what if I want to extend the warrant on my friend’s car?
HIM: What year, sir?
ME: Can I ask you where you are?
HIM: What year is your Dodge?
ME: I don’t have a Dodge. Can you tell me where you guys are?
HIM: hangs up.

So I didn’t get as far as last time. And this guy didn’t even want to tell me his name (unlike “Porshe” who I spoke to last time – next time I might say I want to speak to Ferarri.)

Based on the comments, and the reaction from anyone who I mention these calls to, this is a pretty widespread scheme. I’m going to try calling the AG’s office and maybe the FTC.

CALL 1: My name is Porsche

Posted April 20, 2009 by jim c
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porsche_pic_smAfter dozens of calls to work, home and cell phone I pressed 1 to speak to a representative. Here’s what happened:

I got through to someone who called herself Porsche from Warranty solutions
She asked me if I’d like to extend my warranty
I said I don’t have a car
She said ok, we can take you off our list
I said, I want to know how I ended up on the list
She said they get the list from major manufacturers,
I said I don’t have a car, have never owned a car, have never attempted to buy a car
She said they get the list from major manufacturers, but sometimes they get numbers in error, hundreds of them
I said I’d like to speak to a supervisor
She said “I am the supervisor”
I questioned that
I said who pays you
She said she does
I said “you work for yourself?”
She said yes
I said who are all those people in the background?
She said other operators in a transfer center in Georgia
I said, do they all work for themselves?
She said yes
I said I’d like to know who pays her and all the other people
She said that’s personal, would I like it if she asked me that?
I said I’m not the one calling to sell something and I wanted to know how they got my number
She said from the major manufacturer list
I reminded her I don’t have a car
She said we try to sell warranties if your warranty is expiring
I said, who is this “we”
She said, me and all the people in the background
I said I really want to know who pays them
She said she had been on the phone for 7 minutes and was going to end the call
I said, please bear with me.
She hung up.