CT Watchdog: Fundraising hangups irk supporters

For more than 10 years Mark and Susan Fineman of Cheshire donated regularly to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

But after weeks of daily phone calls from Telefund, a fundraiser for the ASPCA, the couple is debating whether they will continue to make donations to the charity formed in 1866 to protect animals from abuse.

Mark Fineman says he would not mind if charities called him directly for donations, but he is particularly upset when they hire major fundraisers like Telefund, which then repeatedly call his home without identifying itself and without leaving a message. The couple are on the Do Not Call list, but charities and politicians are exempt.

After receiving scores of unwanted phone calls on behalf of politicians prior to the election, Mark Fineman thought he would get a break.

But then he began receiving daily calls from a number he did not recognize. He let the calls go into voicemail but there were no messages left. His policy is to not answer those types of calls since the probability is high they are from telemarketers. After several of the calls, the retired psychology professor from Southern Connecticut State University Googled the telephone number and discovered that it was one of the numbers Telefund uses.

He also found scores of complaints on the Internet against Telefund for similar issues, including hang-ups when the consumer answers the phone.

At that point he contacted CtWatchdog asking whether he could take any action to stop the calls that he had been receiving for weeks.

I asked him to check to see if there are any charities or organizations that he has a connection to that might be clients of Telefund.

A quick check on the Telefund website showed that ASPCA is one of its clients.

Telefund's client list includes many liberal and progressive national organizations. Its Internet site says it is raising or has raised money for such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Anti-Defamation League, Democratic National Committee, NAACP, National Organization for Women and Obama for America.

Telefund did not respond to a request for comment. It has an F rating from the Better Business Bureau for declining to respond to three complaints the BBB had received.

The BBB did have an answer as to why consumers get so many hang-ups from telemarketers: it is referred to as predictive dialing.

"The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) receives many complaints about 'predictive dialing' by telemarketers. Predictive dialing is when a telemarketer's automatic dialer simultaneously dials more phone numbers than the telemarketer can handle if all of the called parties pick up at the same time. Oftentimes, the first person to answer his or her phone is connected to the telemarketer, while the rest are disconnected."

The ASPCA confirmed that it had provided Fineman's contact information to Telefund.

"We had his wife's info because she is a donor, and that's why we shared it with Telefund, who then in turn contacted her on our behalf. Telefund would only ever have called her on our behalf, not on behalf of other organizations," said ASPCA spokeswoman Alison M. Jimenez.

As the result of the complaint, she said the ASPCA has contacted Telefund and asked that the Finemans be removed from all contact lists.

"For the record, we honor all requests from donors regarding solicitation preferences, and all it takes is an email or phone call to let us know how they prefer to be communicated with and we will update records accordingly," she said.

But she declined to comment on Telefund's practice of repeated calls without a message being left.

"I'm sorry, I really can't comment on the particular practices of another company," she said.

As most of us know, the Do Not Call list provides little protection from these unwanted phone calls. But one thing consumers can do is to trace the telephone to the telemarketer and demand that their names be removed from the calling list. If the calls continue, you can file a complaint with the FCC at www.fcc.gov/complaints.

You can reach The Watchdog at george@ctwatchdog.com.

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