Telemarketers taken to task for violating Do Not Call rules

Dan Cramer noticed the frequency of annoying telemarketing calls was increasing about six months ago.

Dan Cramer noticed the frequency of annoying telemarketing calls was increasing about six months ago.

About two and a half months ago, he decided enough was enough.

Determined to stop the weekly barrage of calls from Bell Canada, its Solo Mobile wireless brand or call centres working on their behalf, he put his private number on a national No Call List.

But still the calls kept coming — even past the 31-day deadline that companies are given to comply with the list.

In early November, the Red Deer advertising consultant added another phone number he has to the national list. He also requested at least five times that Bell Canada put him on its own No Call List. The number of calls slowed but didn’t stop.

What got Cramer really steamed was when he questioned one telemarketer, they admitted his name was on the no call list “but called me anyhow.”

Cramer wasn’t the only who had seen enough.

The CRTC announced on Monday that it was slapping a $1.3-million penalty on Bell Canada for breaking federal Do Not Call rules. The telecommunications regulators says independent third-party telemarketers hired by Bell made unsolicited calls to sell TV, telephone and Internet services to consumers registered on the national Do Not Call list or the company’s own list.

The CRTC and Bell reached an agreement on the size of the penalty, which is the biggest levied under two-year-old telecommunications regulations.

The next biggest penalty, $500,000 to Xentel DM Inc., was announced just last Friday and was part of a settlement over the company’s unauthorized telemarketing practices.

A CRTC investigation found Xentel made calls to people on the No Call List and “promoted events on its own behalf or on the behalf of organizations that were not registered as charities with the Canada Revenue Agency.”

Cramer was pleased to hear telemarketers, especially Bell, were being taken to task.

“That’s good because I just got another call on Monday,” he said. Again, it was telemarketer for Bell Solo Mobile. When he started asking questions, the caller hung up.

“I guess, in a nutshell, I’m glad to see there was some response. The question is will it make any difference?”

A clear conflict remains because the company that has the contract to operate the list — Bell — is breaking the rules, he argues.

“The very entity that has the most complaints against them is the fox that’s guarding the henhouse. To me, that’s a blatant conflict of interest.”

Andrea Rosen, CRTC’s chief telecommunications enforcement officer, said Bell was chosen through a tendering process and there is a “complete wall” between Do Not Call List numbers and consumer complaints and the telecommunications company, which has no access to that information.

“I think it’s quite evident that because we have taken action against Bell there is absolutely no reason to have any concerns whatsoever that they are not acting appropriately.

“They came to the table. They agreed to resolve our concerns. They didn’t get off because they were the list operator.”

Rosen hopes see the CRTC’s action as a sign that the regulator has taken consumer concerns to heart and will be diligent in pursuing telecommunications rule breakers.

Bell Canada says in a statement that it takes its responsibilities under the Unsolicited Telecommunications Rules and the National Do Not Call List seriously and has taken steps to ensure authorized independent telemarketers stick to the rules.

Third-party telemarketers are blamed for making the calls and no violations were committed by any Bell-operated call centres, says Canada’s largest telecommunications company.

Bell has terminated its relationships with two telemarketers and suspended several others due to non-compliance with the rules, says the company.

Telemarketers are “expressly prohibited” from calling numbers on the national Do Not Call List or the company’s own list, says the company.

Liberal Senator Percy Downe has been watching the Do Not Call issue closely and created a stir last summer when he pointed out what he considered the CRTC’s then-dismal record for collecting fines levied against rogue telemarketers.

“I’ve been after the government for a long time to increase the fines, increase the enforcement, collect the money and change the behaviour that way,” said Downe from Ottawa in an interview late last week before the Bell penalty was announced.

The former chief of staff to former prime minister Jean Chretien was encouraged to see the Xentel announcement and he plans to check to make sure the money actually gets paid.

“This group (CRTC) has a tendency to announce large numbers and not actually collect anything,” he said.

Downe said his concern about the No Call List was prompted by the number of complaints he received from people whose numbers were on the list but the telemarketing harassment continued. Some even reported they got more calls when they registered on the list.

“Many, many people who had never received calls before were receiving calls after they signed up.”

The issue has not gone away. He still gets weekly phone calls or emails from people annoyed by telemarketers.

The number of exemptions allowed under CRTC rules has drawn criticism in the past. Those who can still call numbers on the list are registered charities, newspapers looking for subscriptions, political parties and their candidates, polling, survey or market research organizations, as well as companies with whom you have had a commercial relationship within the last 18 months as long as the customer agrees.

The Red Deer Advocate no longer exercises its right to use telemarketing for subscriptions because of public complaints.

Telemarketers making calls must maintain their own exempt lists and if requested, they must put someone’s number on their list within 31 days.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com