One local expert has even collected thousands, and they say you can do it too, if you're willing to put in the time.
Ben Schroeter had the time and was livid. A telemarketer left an automated message on his answering machine.
Automated telemarketing is illegal in this state. There has to be a human to at least ask you if you want to hear the recorded message.
"The telephone call I received referred me to a Web site," he said.
Since they didn't leave a number, Ben went to the Web site -- YourHomeCareer.com. It was a dead end.
"I was looking for contact information," he said. "They didn't have any contact information on their Web site."
The first step in going after an illegal telemarketer is to get the name and state. If you have a phone number, you can call and ask for more information about who they are and where they're located -- but never give out your information.
Once you get a name and state, you can call the Secretary of State where the company is located for the full address.
Other options include finding the information from the company Web site, or the company that registered the Web site.
Schroeter says another trick is to find one of the sites where you register a domain and enter the exact Web site name of the company you're looking for. The site will tell you that domain name is already taken, and also let you click on who has it, along with their address.
Ben eventually tracked the telemarketer to DHS Enterprises in Ohio. He sent an e-mail.
"The use of automatic dialing and announcing devices in the State of Washington is illegal," he said in the e-mail. He also cited our state law.
"Please note that section 3 provides for a $500 penalty per recipient. If you wish, I would be happy to engage your legal representative."
DHS Enterprises immediately sent him a check for $500.
Schroeter says he gets his inspiration from another "Ben" in Seattle. Ben Liviningston collected nearly $3,000 from illegal telemarketers, spammers and junk faxers last year, and is waiting for nearly $7,000 more.
"I've never met him," said Schroeter. " We've talked on the phone briefly."
So KOMO 4 News arranged a meeting. Now, they're talking about putting on a seminar, to help other consumers fight back.
Illegal marketers may not blink at paying one or two people...
"But if 20 people do it, that's a lot more," Schroeter said. "And they maybe reconsider whether or not they want to keep violating the law."
The same basic rules apply to illegal spam and junk faxes -- keep the evidence, find the company name and address, and send a carefully worded letter stating the law and how much they owe you.
But don't expect every marketer to send a check.
You may have to go to small claims court, or even sue in a district or superior court in another state. Even then, you still may get nothing.
It takes a lot of time, and illegal marketers are counting on the fact that you won't take it.
For More Information:
How To Sue Violators -- tabletnewspaper.com
Track Ben's Crusade Against Telemarketers -- smallclaim.info
Sample Letter -- seattlelivemusic.homestead.com
Small Claims Information -- www.wa.gov/ago
Washington Small Claims Court Info -- www.courts.wa.gov
Attorney General's Web Page On Telemarketing Fraud -- www.wa.gov
State Page On Illegal Spam -- www.wa.gov/ago
State Law on Automated Telemarketing
Automatic dialing and announcing device -- Commercial solicitation by.
(1) As used in this section:
(a) An automatic dialing and announcing device is a device which automatically dials telephone numbers and plays a recorded message once a connection is made.
(b) Commercial solicitation means the unsolicited initiation of a telephone conversation for the purpose of encouraging a person to purchase property, goods, or services.
(2) No person may use an automatic dialing and announcing device for purposes of commercial solicitation. This section applies to all commercial solicitation intended to be received by telephone customers within the state.
(3) A violation of this section is a violation of chapter 19.86 RCW. It shall be presumed that damages to the recipient of commercial solicitations made using an automatic dialing and announcing device are $500.
(4) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the Washington utilities and transportation commission from adopting additional rules regulating automatic dialing and announcing devices.
Legislative finding -- 1986 c 281: "The legislature finds that the use of automatic dialing and announcing devices for purposes of commercial solicitation: (1) Deprives consumers of the opportunity to immediately question a seller about the veracity of their claims; (2) subjects consumers to unwarranted invasions of their privacy; and (3) encourages inefficient and potentially harmful use of the telephone network. The legislature further finds that it is in the public interest to prohibit the use of automatic dialing and announcing devices for purposes of commercial solicitation."