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Fred Schulte

Prometheus Books

US Hardcover

ISBN 0-87975-963-1

Publication Date: 1995

361 pages;$24.95

Date Reviewed: 04-03-1996  

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002



Non-Fiction, Mystery

The monsters can get through your telephone. No, it's not Freddy Krueger's tongue, though it's just as subtle. It's telemarketing. 'Fleeced!' by Fred Schulte offers up a sordid, detailed history of the telemarketing industry. The statistics are amazing, but it's the human beings who are the real stars of 'Fleeced!'. In the boiler room, Homo capitalist quickly reaches his lowest common denominator. It's an ugly sight, vividly, if sometimes haphazardly, portrayed.

Telemarketing scams are an amazingly new phenomenon, born in 1974 in Las Vegas. Schulte's history of 50 States marketing "the granddaddy of all boiler rooms" offers a fascinating analysis of the birth of a new type of crime. If you expect telemarketing scams, to be particularly clever, don't. They're based on greed, they prey on the lonely, the elderly and the desperate, and basically, the guys just call up the victim and tell bald-faced lies, again and again. They promise services that don't exist, prizes that are not awarded and products that never arrive or aren't what they're supposed to be. For example, one early telemarketer promised a Winnebago that prize winners could take around the country and live in. Contestants had to pay $395 or more to enter, and the Winnebago turned out to be a cheap tent with the Winnebago logo plastered on it. Again and again, the warning is: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

In spite of this, people fall for the scams again and again, and Schulte goes through all the types, showing how the telemarketers move from one arena to the next, as fast as laws are enacted to stop them. One of the main problems in stopping telemarketers, he asserts, is that they're so hard to prosecute. They live in one state, prey on victims in another, and an attempt to stop is fraught with frustration for both the law enforcement officials and the victims. Schulte also gives an entertaining description of the support industries for telemarketing, from list salesmen to the phone companies.

Occasionally one could wish for more organization from Schulte, who tends to jump around a bit, and more of a sense of humor. After all, this is a subject that is inherently humorous, unless, of course, you've been preyed upon by these criminals, and that's obviously why he does so. However, the end result is occasionally a bit drier than one would expect. Still, if boiler rooms and telemarketing scams are a source of fascination to you, and you wish to see some great descriptions of their perpetrators, methods and victims, then 'Fleeced!' is a an excellent place to start. Like most good non-fiction works, it will change the way you look at the world in general, and, in this case, the telephone in particular.