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Tom Mabe deals with his hang ups

By Robert Loy, November 2000

Tom Mabe hates telemarketers. Well, of course he hates telemarketers. He's a decent God-fearing American, and all decent God-fearing Americans hate telemarketers.

But instead of just meekly mumbling "I'm not interested" and hoping the dialing desperadoes will let us off the hook (so to speak), Mabe does something about it.

On his two CDs, "Revenge on the Telemarketers, Round One" and the recently released "Round Two," both released this year on Virgin, Mabe drives them as crazy as they drive us. He freaks them out by telling them he's under house arrest and begging them to bring him some beer. He grosses them out by telling the carpet-cleaning salespeople that he needs to get blood out of his rug -- a lot of blood. He's even been known to get telemarketers' home phone numbers and fire them himself.

Mabe did not set out to be the standard-bearer in the war against annoying telemarketers. A musician by trade, Mabe was making a comfortable living writing jingles for the likes of Arby's, McDonalds, KFC, Volvo, Mercedes and Kroger grocery stores.

Since he was working out of his home in Louisville, Kentucky -- a long way from the advertising capital of the world -- much of his business was necessarily conducted by phone.

"More and more of the calls I got were not from clients, the people I wanted to hear from," Mabe explains, "but telemarketers trying to sell me stuff I didn't need."

Eventually he had enough, and he began to fight back. With the ad-libbing ability of Robin Williams and an endless supply of vitriolic wit.

Calls where Mabe tells the funeral plot salesman that he was considering suicide and waiting on a sign from God and the one where he couldn't talk to somebody soliciting for the sheriff's department because he had his hands full building a pipe bomb, were recorded on his $37 home answering machine and passed around to his friends.

Eventually, one of the tapes landed on the desk of Virgin Records president Scott Hendricks, and he offered Mabe a recording contract.

Now, he's making the rounds of the morning radio shows and traveling the country in his "Revenge Mobile" a red Volkswagen Beetle modified to look like a giant telephone.

"It's completely operable," Mabe says in a recent telephone interview. "I take it to Wal-Mart; it's my car; it's what I drive. Yep, 33 years old, driving a telephone. You know I've hit the big-time. It's in the garage right now. I've got a bumper sticker that says "My other car is a fax machine."

As you can see, Mabe uses a lot of humor in his anti-telemarketer campaign, but he's very serious about what he does.

"So many of these calls are nothing but scams," says Mabe. "Very clever scams. Like when people call for the fire department or the police department. Those departments aren't getting that money. The telemarketers make a deal with them to collect money in their name, but only 8 to 12 percent of the money they collect will actually go to the organization. So they do this spiel like 'Well, Mrs. Miller, we've always been there for you in the past. We just wanted to remind you with the holidays coming up be sure to keep all your doors locked, don't talk to strangers. And we hope that you'll support us so that we can continue to be there for you.'

"So, she's thinking if she doesn't give money nobody's going to respond if she's being robbed or her house is on fire. That's blackmail. And that's exactly how they operate."

He especially despises the ones that prey on senior citizens.

"They are ruthless people. They'll befriend an older person, call them several times a week. And then spring the trap and go 'Oh, I've got this deal you can't pass up.' And just because it's a friendly voice doesn't mean it's a friend. My mom has deadbolt locks, motion sensor lights, but how people can call out of the blue and obtain her checking account number I have no idea. Oh, the girl sounded so nice. They're trained to steal over the phone. They won't take no for an answer."

"The FBI estimates that there are 12,000 of these illegal scams out there every day, bilking seniors out of millions of dollars."

Now you understand why Mabe compares telemarketers to drug dealers and Mafia hitmen. And it's not only because they all excuse their actions by saying "I'm just doing my job." Does he ever worry that he might end up in concrete shoes in a lake outside some Florida timeshare condo?

"I've gotten threats. I've gotten death threats actually. Had to get the FBI involved on that one."

So what should people who are not as quick and as vicious as Mabe do to fight back against telemarketers.

"Tell them to put you on their do-not-call list," says Mabe. "It works to some extent. Though the do-not-call list does not work with charities. And charities are the big scams. But it's the only thing that does work. It's the one thing you have to say. If you hang up on them, your name goes right back into the computer and their predictive dialer, and they'll call you a week later.

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