As noted in our preliminary findings report, the original intent of the investigation was purely to look into harassing phone calls; it was too limited in scope and therefore the investigation was adjusted appropriately. Annuitants’ testimonials are clear: they believe they are being ruthlessly and systematically being targeted for someone else’s profit. But how are these people being reached? What makes contact harassment? Let’s explore this in more depth. All clients and companies exposed by these clients have been made anonymous for these posts.
The standard and most frequent forms of contact are direct mailings and phone calls. For many, though not all, direct mailings are the most annoying simply due to the volume of mail received on a weekly basis; for those annuitants who have only just left the courtrooms the mailings are on a daily basis for months on end. These mailings are the “Gotcha!” checks that look and are occasionally perceived as free money. We in the industry know this isn’t the case, and our company has taken steps to warn annuitants to be careful with these mailings – but as previously mentioned, some annuitants don’t understand this. Some, either due to misunderstanding the mail or out of sheer desperation, will cash these checks. The results for these people are disastrous; not just in terms of getting money or expecting to receive more afterwards – even when they don’t end up getting any at all – but psychologically. We work in the industry and understand all of the jargon; many of these annuitants – these people – don’t. The mailings, despite being effective sales tools, are too much for many annuitants. Beyond the harmful effects for those who end up cashing in the checks they’re getting in the mail, from a practical standpoint they are largely ineffective. Nearly all testimonials from clients note that whenever they see mail that seems like it might be about a structured settlement or annuity, they simply make a bee-line for the garbage can and toss it in. It seems about as effective as the political mailings we are all being inundated with during the mid-term election season.
Phone calls are troublesome territory for annuitants. For many, they take the appropriate approach to unwanted solicitations and request to be removed from the calling list for the respective company. At this point, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act is clear that the person shouldn’t be contacted again for at least a period of five years. Do the phone calls stop? For the vast majority of the time, absolutely not. Testimonials frequently cite that despite repeatedly telling companies to stop calling, they do anyway. The salesman might change, but the companies don’t. This is textbook corporate harassment. If this wasn’t troublesome enough, clients have gone on at length regarding the kinds of tactics employed by these various representatives. This ranges from a typical sales pitch of feigned familiarity and friendliness to shouting that they’re being ripped off and should do business with them. For the friendlier pitch, one client testified that she repeatedly received a call from a man at company X. He was told not to call back and respected this for about a month. The next month he called and claimed that when they had spoken the month prior he was given an indication that she may be interested in their company’s services. She explained that this wasn’t the case and to stop calling, that she wasn’t interested in selling her annuity to them. Calls of this type occurred once a month for several months until the representative finally stopped. Despite the friendliness of these solicitations, it must be remembered that it is still harassment since she repeatedly told this person, and the company he represented, that contact was not desired. Beyond the legality of the situation, it is simply unethical and has effects beyond the immediate offender. If our industry continues with these practices then it is our entire industry that will ultimately suffer, and it begins with those that continue to conduct themselves exclusively in legitimate business practices. Here is another example, far less friendly, than the first: another annuitant, one from years past, still to this day receives calls and mail. When he does receive calls, he states that many of the sales reps are “borderline belligerent” and just won’t get off the phone. He has resorted to threats of suing them for harassment since they have kept calling for so long. These sorts of measures should not have to be taken by any annuitant anywhere. This same annuitant went on at length about how “no means no” and that he isn’t in the habit of changing his mind, no matter how much harassment he suffers as a result. We at Bentzen Financial agree. No does mean no.
Other tactics reported to us include the following, which we have come to expect as standard fare per testimonial:
- Forcefully coercive tactics, misinformation included. This includes pretending to be a representative of our own company to set the annuitant at ease before claiming that no, in fact the person is from another company and apologizes for the (consistent) misunderstanding.
- Contacting with equal vigor the family of the annuitant; minors and out-of-state relatives included. Some, especially children, more apt than others to be fooled by the “Gotcha!” checks.
- Contacting the legal representatives of annuitants to the point of harassment as well.
- Claims that Bentzen Financial is ripping annuitant off, and therefore the soliciting salesman’s company should naturally be selected as replacement, despite contractual obligations with us.
- Physically showing up at an annuitant’s, annuitant’s family member’s, or annuitant’s legal representative’s home or place of business with an aggressive, in-person sales pitch.
- Using dialing machines and automated messages to contact annuitants despite not being legally permitted; the indicated use of dialing machines is based upon time lags during the answering of phone calls.
- Even if the annuitant does business with a company, which is to say that he or she gave in to the constant contact, the contact doesn’t stop – not even from the company that he or she gave in to. This includes annuitants who don’t even have any money left to do business with. Harassment continues despite this logical disconnect.
The standard fare is unacceptable and unfair not just to the annuitants, but to the businesses that are not otherwise engaged in these practices. How is legitimate business expected to flourish if such a practice like scraping is allowed to continue? The short answer is that it can’t. The only logical conclusion is that if one is to try and compete with the dark side, one must join it. Thus we come to a case mentioned in the preliminary findings report: where an annuitant was harassed not just by phone and mail, but also directly from a representative on Facebook.
This is easily one of the most astounding cases that we have come across. Her testimony is standard, otherwise: constant mailings and phone calls. Representatives are told to leave her alone but they refuse to do so; warnings and demands to stop are frequent. The most persistent representative admitted to searching through all of Facebook for the annuitant by last name until he found her. He then attempted his pitch again. The annuitant was so disturbed by this man’s refusal to take the hint that she took a photo of her desktop, including the Facebook message, and forwarded it to us – after promptly refusing him once again. The representative, the company he worked for, and the contents of the message were plain to see without any attempt at veiling it. So brazen was this particular attempt that it is difficult to do this story justice without attaching the picture submitted to us; for privacy reasons, however, this is withheld.
These are the tactics employed by the scraping pariahs of our industry. Part two of these investigation results will be released soon and will delve into what the annuitants themselves have to say about their experiences; what they think, feel, and want to see happen in the industry given their experiences. Check back soon.