June 29, 2004
You put your name on the Do Not Call registry, instructed your credit card company to keep your contact information to themselves, and even got caller ID. Still, you're getting pitched. So how did the telemarketers get your number?
You might want to check with your boss.
The office no longer offers a safe haven from telemarketers and the like. Just ask the folks in your human resources department. They field calls daily from vendors who want your number. Most never get past voice mail. But a few who offer what your HR folks deem a valuable service are finding an in.
By forming an employee benefits program, companies can come into your office and pitch their services during your coffee break. Since your employer is most likely ineligible for inclusion in the national and most states' Do Not Call laws, vendors can follow up -- you guessed it -- via phone and avoid FTC fines for telemarketing.
Traditionally, such services as cheap banking, discounted gym memberships, and cut-rate insurance were extras afforded only to those at large companies. But now, stymied service providers -- particularly those in the financial field -- are targeting small and midsize businesses where more than half of the employed population toils.
Here's who's on the line and what they may have to offer:
- Mortgage brokers: A recent email to lenders promoted a class on marketing to companies, employing the work-around to the Do Not Call list and avoiding fines of up to $11,000 per call. Pitching refinancing services to a group of people is certainly better business than going door to door. Still, you should shop around and compare interest rates before you make a commitment to one lender. (Our Rates Center offers easy up-to-date info on mortgages and home equity loans.)
- Banks: Local bank branches often have the flexibility to offer some pretty sweet deals. Just hope that your fellow workers see it that way, too. Things like free checking or better rates on bonds or CDs may only come to fruition if a certain number of employees sign up, or, for example, four people agree to direct-deposit their paychecks. Your employer can also be an entree to membership in a credit union (which comes with pros and cons).
- Pre-paid legal services: One of the more popular add-on benefits employers offer is access to inexpensive legal help. At the Fool HQ, for example, we pay just 16 smackaroos a month and can call a legal eagle for help writing a will, handling a traffic violation, or even managing an easy divorce (if there is such a thing). The best plans let employees pay only for the months they think they'll need help.
- Insurance: Even if you've got health and disability insurance at work, you may want to supplement your coverage. Insurers are itching to pitch you, too, with add-ons like disability or even pet insurance. Since most employers can't afford to give you extra coverage on their own, they open their doors to other providers. (Perhaps you've sat through a few lunchtime PowerPoint presentations?) Again, shop around -- we show you how -- to make sure that you are truly getting a deal.
The best HR people only open the door to service providers who offer a true value for employees and a service that costs them nothing to offer. Still, an introduction by your boss is not the same as an endorsement. Do your due diligence and go into the meet-and-greet with the understanding that if you offer your contact information, you're opening the door to future solicitations.