No Protection from Canadian Telemarketers

The telephone police say they're doing a good job at stopping telemarketers from calling. We beg to differ.

national do not call list
“Stop calling, stop calling. I don’t wanna think anymore,” cry Tony Wanless and Lady Gaga.

The telephone police say they’re doing a good job at stopping telemarketers from calling. We beg to differ.

At our house, we long ago learned not to answer the phone between 5 and 7 p.m. Or Saturday mornings. Or 2 p.m., which seems to be another common time for the telemarketers to harangue us about how we should sign up for more phone services, television services, shopping services, charitable donations, supposed market surveys, and membership clubs that will bring us huge savings on vacations or furniture we probably don’t really want and certainly don’t need.

It’s a common ritual in Canada these days for anyone with a phone.

Except it’s not supposed to be that common for those 8.4 million people who registered their telephone or fax numbers on Canada’s do-not-call list.

These people actually believed the federal government’s Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission when it instituted the list back in 2008 to stop the telemarketing companies from annoying us to death with the hard sell.

You know the drill: Is this Mr. So and So? No matter what you say, they launch into the supersales pitch at 100 kilometers an hour (60 miles an hour if they’re American, which many are). If you have an ounce of politeness, you try nicely to get them off the phone. It’s usually futile.

When I get them, and I’m in a dirty mood, I break in and ask how much they’re willing to pay me to listen to the spiel or take the survey. If the answer is zero, then I hang up. Or I wait until they launch again and I scream “WHAT! WHAT! I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” and start banging the receiver on the counter. Sometimes I like to make weird noises into the receiver or start speaking some crazy language I just invented.

I’ve even tried to sell some of them on MY services, giving a bit of kindly advice on how they can improve the content of their spiel and offering more help for a low one-time fee.

But mostly, I’m like you. I just hang up and grumble about it.

The do-not-call list was supposed to put an end to this kind of stupid gamesmanship (theirs and mine) but apparently hasn’t been very successful at it. 

The CRTC said initially that if a telemarketer violated the do-not-call rules (i.e., called people whose numbers are on the list) it could face a fine of up to $150,000.

So far it’s fined only 22 companies for a grand total of about $75,000. And it’s managed to collect only $3,000 of that.

Worse, there have been indications that some telemarketers – again mostly those based outside Canada and so impervious to the rules – are actually mining the list for people to call.

So instead of being a do-not-call list, it could actually be a “here I am, just a computer dial away. Call me anytime, day or night!” list.

Of course government opponents are making a big show of demanding that something be done about it. And government spokespeople are defending their record.

It was ever thus. So don’t hold your breath.

What we have here is another useless government program that is supposed to make us feel like we’re being defended.

But the only good defense is just to shut off the phone, have people leave a message, and then call back those you want to call.

Or, as in my case, the best defense is offense. Try to sell them something back.

Maybe you can unload that old couch that’s moldering in the basement.