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Direct hit by phone sale scam

Aug 26, 2002  •  Post A Comment

EchoStar is not DirecTV’s favorite dish.
Some telemarketers apparently are trying to trick DirecTV subscribers into switching to EchoStar’s dish in preparation for the EchoStar merger with DirecTV, which would add nearly 11 million customers to its subscriber base.
DirecTV says that telemarketers are claiming not only that its customers need to replace their dish with an EchoStar dish, but that DirecTV will go out of business after its merger with EchoStar.
After receiving numerous customer complaints about the telemarketers, DirecTV this week posted an on-screen “Customer Alert” on its channel 243. The alert begins: “Watch out for dishonest sales pitches from DirecTV competitors.”
A DirecTV spokesman told Electronic Media that the company does not believe the calls are an attempt by EchoStar to poach subscribers in case the merger is rejected. The federal government is not expected to rule on the merger until this fall.
“We believe they [EchoStar] do not condone this kind of behavior from rogue telemarketers,” said Bob Marsocci, a DirecTV spokesman.
EchoStar spokesman Mark Lumpkin said the calls did not come from “EchoStar’s corporation.” He said the company itself does not hire telemarketers. However, he said, EchoStar’s retail partners do make calls on behalf of the satellite TV service.
Asked whether EchoStar knew that retailers were making false claims about DirecTV, Mr. Lumpkin said he did not “have any information on that.” He added that any EchoStar retailer found to have made false claims would be subject to a penalty.
“We would hope that DirecTV would take similar steps against their retailers,” Mr. Lumpkin said. He had no comment on whether DirecTV retailers are making false claims about EchoStar.
Mr. Marsocci said DirecTV has also received customer reports that some telemarketers have urged a switch to digital cable because of the EchoStar merger. But the telemarketing issue is a sensitive one for EchoStar. The city of Los Angeles recently launched an investigation into allegations that EchoStar telemarketers may have made fraudulent claims about Adelphia, the embattled cable operator. The telemarketers are alleged to have said that Adelphia will experience service interruptions because it declared bankruptcy. The telemarketers allegedly told Adelphia customers that they should switch to EchoStar.
Mr. Lumpkin said EchoStar is investigating whether the Adelphia calls came from the company’s retail partners. He added that EchoStar is working with the Los Angeles city attorney to identify the retailers. Adelphia reported the calls to the city attorney.
Mr. Marsocci said DirecTV has not contacted any legal authority regarding the dish telemarketing calls. He said he does not believe that DirecTV customers are falling for the trick.
“Our customers are shrewd enough to know if the call is not from DirecTV, they shouldn’t take it seriously,” he said. “But they [the telemarketers] are clearly trying to gain a customer at our expense.”
The telemarketing calls seem timed to try to take advantage of consumer confusion. If the satellite TV merger is approved, DirecTV owners may indeed have to swap their satellite systems, although they would likely not have to pay for the replacement. EchoStar officials have not revealed specifics on how the merger transition would be carried out.
But some industry analysts believe the merger will not win federal approval, which would make the dish swap a moot point. This possibility is not lost on DirecTV.
“Don’t be fooled by these false claims!” says the DirecTV on-screen customer alert. “There is no need to replace your DirecTV system and there’s no other DirecTV.”