Editorial Policy

Talking Back to ‘Rachel’ the Robocaller

Allie Johnson

December 28, 2012

It’s a sunny Monday morning, and I’m sipping a strong cup of coffee and getting into a groove with a writing project. My land line rings, and I pick up. “Hello?” There’s a pause, and an exuberant recorded voice says, “Hello, this is Rachel from Cardholder Services.”

I would love to figure out how to get Rachel to buzz off, and I’m  not alone. So many Americans have received calls from the robotic Rachel that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a federal consumer protection agency, this past fall released a WANTED poster with a shadowy outline of “Rachel,” listing her crimes as illegal calls, disturbing the peace and being a total pest.

The calls from Rachel are robocalls, meaning that, when you pick up the phone, you hear a prerecorded message instead of a real person. Political organizations and charities are allowed to make robocalls. But these calls usually are illegal when they come from companies selling a product or service. You can read more on the FTC’s website. And here’s an infographic showing how robocalls work.

If you get illegal robocalls, they’re most likely a scam, according to the FTC. And that’s the case with the calls from Rachel.

Apparently the calls from Rachel and her pals (there’s also a Stacey and a Heather, whom the FTC calls her “chipper co-workers”) come from a network of shady companies. The recorded messages claim consumers can lower the interest rates on their credit cards if they press “1.” If they do, they’re connected to a live operator, often at a call center outside the United States, who asks how much credit card debt they have, which cards they have, and what their interest rates are. The caller promises to lower the rates, in some cases to zero percent, for a fee of as much as $3,000, according to the FTC. If the consumer falls for the scam, the company collects the money and disappears.

I get these calls all the time, and it’s really irritating. But some news headlines in November 2012 gave me hope that the endless calls might finally come to a stop. The FTC declared Rachel “public enemy number one” and announced it had shut down five companies behind the scam.

A few days after I read the headlines that hinted the FTC had “hung up on Rachel” for good, I got another call. And then another. The calls continued all through December and don’t seem to be letting up. I started pressing “1” to get to a live operator, hoping I could convince someone to take me off the list.

Every time I got through to a live person, the operator would slam down the phone before I could even finish a sentence. I tried asking for a phone number to make a return call, and the operator gave me a fake number. The next time, I asked for the company’s address, and the operator said, oddly, “Ma’am! You are being mischievous! Get off the line!”

Other consumers have turned their outrage to humor or tried to get revenge. Some participants on online forums say they press “1” and try to keep the operator on the line as long as possible, in an attempt to waste time and cost the scammers a few dollars. One consumer recorded a long conversation with a “Cardholder Services” operator and dubbed over his own voice with sound bites from “Dr. Phil” shows to make it sound like the avuncular TV psychologist was having a risque conversation with “Rachel.” One consumer recently tweeted: “Got my Xmas wish. Rachel from #CarholderServices seems to have died. But now Tiffany won’t leave me the (expletive) alone!”

If you can’t get rid of Rachel, Tiffany or whoever, the FTC recommends you hang up without pressing 1 or any other number. (Many of these companies falsely claim you can get taken off their call list by pressing 2.) Then, report the call at DoNotCall.gov. The FTC has posted a $50,000 reward for the innovator who submits the best solution to the robocall problem. So, maybe one day soon we’ll all be able to drink our morning coffee in peace.