Howard Cohen has received dozens of calls from "Rachel" at "card member services." At first he thought they must be from his credit card issuer.
Now he knows better.
"It's a scam," Cohen, 67, of Fontana told me. "All they want is to get you into some new credit card with a higher interest rate — or worse."
The "worse" in this case is possibly having your identity stolen and bogus charges run up on your plastic.
The Web is dripping with complaints from consumers nationwide about the "Rachel" calls. In most cases, a recorded message informs you that you can lower your credit card rate. You're then instructed to press 1 for more information.
Doing so will connect you with a live agent who will request your credit card number and your Social Security number.
Needless to say, those are two numbers you don't want to share with strangers — and you don't want to share your Social with anyone. Period.
"These calls are incredibly deceptive," said Linda Sherry, a spokeswoman for the advocacy group Consumer Action. "You think it's from your bank and then you're not sure what it is."
The sheer volume of calls being made by this outfit speaks to a large and unusually sophisticated operation. Complaints have been lodged by people everywhere from California to Maine.
"It must be an enormous operation for them to be able to do this," said Sherry, who also has received calls from "Rachel" at her home and office, even though both lines are listed with the federal Do Not Call Registry.
Cohen said he understands the nature of the pitch. "I was in sales for half my career," he said. "It's a game of percentages. If you make enough calls, you're going to get a few people who say yes."
In his case, the story gets even more interesting. Cohen said that when he connected with a live agent and started asking to be removed from the company's telemarketing list, the agent hung up on him.
"This occurred dozens of times," Cohen said. "It really bothered me. I'm on the Do Not Call list. I don't want to be getting calls like this."
He finally told a card member services agent that if they didn't stop bugging him, he'd come to their office "and beat some heads in."
A few seconds later, Cohen said, his phone rang again and a male voice warned that Cohen would be reported to the police for making threats.
"I dared him to go right ahead, and that I would be glad to provide him with any information he needed to file a police report," Cohen said.
OK, so Cohen gets an honorable mention for chutzpah. Even so, I don't advise threatening telemarketers with bodily harm. There's no need to potentially get yourself in trouble when these guys are the ones disturbing the peace.
But that doesn't mean you have to take things lying down.
I called the number for "card member services" provided by Cohen, identified myself as a journalist and asked to speak with someone in charge. I was told that a supervisor would call me right back. No such call ever came.
But before the agent managed to hang up, she identified her company as both Ambrosia Web Design and AWD CAM Services, and said they were based in Arizona. That gave me something to go on.
According to the Arizona Corporation Commission, Ambrosia Web Design is operated by someone named Chris Ambrosia out of a house in Mesa.
A company called CAM Services Direct is also registered to Ambrosia and, according to state records, operates out of the same Mesa house.
Ambrosia, 45, didn't return calls for comment.
So what can you do if you start getting calls from "Rachel" and "card member services." First, demand to be placed on the firm's do-not-call list — if you can, before the telemarketer hangs up on you.
If your number is listed with the National Do Not Call Registry, go to the registry's website and report the calls. This may not be possible because, in most cases, it looks like the number is blocked from coming up on people's caller ID screens.
At the very least, go to the website of the Federal Trade Commission and file a complaint there. The more people who officially complain, the more officials will sit up and take notice of a problem.
Beyond that, you might just have to suck it up and deal with the barrage of calls. Or you can do what Cohen did and stand up to these guys.
But go easy on the threats. There's no need for rough stuff.
David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5. Send your tips or feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.