2.6 Billion Robo-Calls Later, Why Won’t Rachel from Cardholder Services Just Go Away?

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Rachel from Cardholder Services, please stop calling. We all know you’re a scam.

If you’ve never heard from Rachel, consider yourself lucky. Rachel is the name untold millions of Americans have heard when answering their phones with a message that at first appears to be coming from their credit card company. “Hi. This is Rachel from Cardholder Services” is how it usually begins. What follows then is an offer to reduce your credit card rates, and if you follow, you’ll likely be asked to pay a fee for the privilege.

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The Federal Trade Commission, which in 2010 shut down a massive robo-calling operation that was responsible for a huge number of the calls from Rachel — and Stacey, a similar friendly voice selling auto warranties — said the responsible company made 2.6 billion calls in a year and a half period, of which 1.6 billion were answered by consumers. Of those, 12.8 million people actually spoke with an agent, the FTC said. Yes, it took a lot of calls (generated by computers, which don’t get too tired), but nearly 13 million people bit.

Following that shutdown, the FTC saw a decline in complaints from people on the national Do Not Call registry. But it was short-lived, with complaints soaring to a new record in 2011. Last week, the FTC settled a case against SBN Peripherals (a.k.a. Asia Pacific Telecom), agreeing to a permanent ban from telemarketing and a payment of $3 million in assets.

So, now that the company that made billions of calls is gone, why is Rachel still calling? Why are so many consumers still filing Do Not Call list complaints against her and her ilk? (She recently called my cell phone.)

While SBN and its related companies might have been Rachel’s biggest launching pad, it was hardly her only one. The FTC, which is in charge of policing Do Not Call violators, recognizes consumers’ frustration with Rachel’s persistence and the annoyance of these calls, which do not discriminate between home or cell phone. “Rachel is a sort of generic name recording that different scammers use,” explained FTC spokesman Frank Dorman. “It’s not just one big operation.”

Citing the shutdown of the massive operation that helped propel Rachel into infamy, Dorman said the government intends to continue going after other Rachel users – and even those that don’t employ the voice that most Americans have learned to hang up on. “The FTC is continuing to aggressively go after these robo-callers,” Dorman said. “That’s not just talk.”

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Robo-calls – those made by an auto-dialer with a recorded voice playing when you answer – are illegal, for the most part. Politicians can still use them in most states, but they cannot be used as a sales tool unless a consumer specifically authorizes a company to use them. The practice of altering what consumers see on their caller ID, known as spoofing, is common to these robo-calling operations and is also illegal.

Dorman urged consumers who are on the Do Not Call list to file complaints online if they get these calls. “It only takes a minute to enter it,” he said. “We need the complaints to look for patterns. We then use those in developing enforcement cases.”

So, complain away. Perhaps one day we might all be able to live our lives without hearing from lawbreaking Rachel (or Stacey) ever again.