CRTC action against pesky telemarketers ‘too little, too late’

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) appears to be doing too little, too late, in its battle against pesky telemarketers, say privacy and consumer advocates.

On Wednesday the Commission  released the identities of one person and two companies it fined for breaching the country’s Do Not Call List (DNCL) provisions.

The CRTC said it fined weight loss coach Rob Sugar $4,000, and imposed $10,000 fines on Roofing by Peerless Mason Ltd.  and Waterproofing by Peerless Mason Inc.  Wayne Gould is registered as sole director of the two Peerless Mason companies.

All three violators are Toronto-based.

“The telemarketers were given opportunities to come into compliance but failed to change their business practices,” the CRTC said in a statement.

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Canada’s Do Not Call List took effect in September last year.

It’s an “opt out” list of persons who have specifically said they do not want to be called by telemarketers.

Companies that call people registered on the list can be fined up to $15,000 per call, while individuals committing similar violations face a $1,500 fine per call.

But the number of fined violators is paltry considering the volume of consumer complaints the government body received and the number of investigations it is conducting, argues Tamir Israel, staff lawyer for the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), a public Internet privacy advocacy group in Ottawa.

Israel said more than 145,000 complaints against telemarketers were filed before the CRTC since last year.

Of that number, the Commission is investigating 700. It has also sent letters to more than 70 organizations informing them that there have been complaints filed against them.  

“I would have expected a larger number of identified violators,” Israel said. He also deplored the lack of transparency in CRTC investigations.

“They definitely did the right thing in fining the violators and publishing their identities. But the public needs more information on how these investigations are progressing.”  

Another Canadian observer echoes this view.

“Transparency is the key issue,” said Michael Janigan, executive director and general counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC). PIAC is a non-profit law and policy organization based in Ottawa.

“Is [the CRTC] just selecting these violators at random? The public has no idea what their process is.”  He suspects the Commission may be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of complaints and “hampered by lack of resources and proper policy.”  

The paltry number of fined violators could further erode public confidence in Canada’s Do Not Call List, Janigan said.

Flawed List

The List is impaired by several flaws, says Israel of CIPPIC.

Among the major weaknesses are:

  • Its provisions do not apply to U.S. and overseas telemarketers
  • It exempts many organizations such as: political parties; charitable organizations; political candidates; general circulation newspapers; and businesses that have prior dealings with the person being called
  • There aren’t safeguards regarding access to the list

“Under existing regulations, there would be nothing to stop telemarketers based in the U.S. from calling Canadian residents,” said Janigan of PIAC.

“The list could also easily fall into the hands of unscrupulous telemarketers.”  

How businesses can comply

A Toronto-based lawyer said there is also some confusion among Canadian businesses about of how to comply with the List.

“We’ve spoken with many organizations, and their main concern is how to ensure they stay in the good side of the DNCL and avoid penalty,” said David Young, partner at Lang Michener LLP., a Toronto-based law firm.

Young practices commercial law with an emphasis on privacy law, regulatory matters, marketing, and e-commerce law.

The firm provides advice to companies seeking telemarketing services and to telemarketing service providers.

In some cases, Young said, violators could end up being stuck with huge monetary penalties.

“The fine of $15,000 per call could easy wipe out a business if you take into account that telemarketers send out thousands of calls each day.”

He also said that having one’s company tagged as a DNCL violator is a definite PR fiasco.

Here are Young’s simple telemarketing best practices tips:

Perform an internal audit- Determine the nature and scope of your company’s telemarketing activities. Are your activities subject to the Do Not Call List rules? Is your company covered by the exemptions in the list?  

Educate your organization – Make sure personnel are aware of exiting telemarketing rules. Provide them with clear best practices and procedures for qualifying customers for telemarketing calls. Make sure personnel adhere to rules and policies.

Keep databases current – Ensure that customer databases are updated regularly and frequently to include. Under CRTC rules companies must update the Do Not Call List every 30 days to ensure they have list of people who opted out for calls.

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