07/13/2012 03:27 EDT | Updated 09/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Taxpayer advocates hit by phone scam

A Canadian group that advocates for lower taxes has been hit by a U.S.-based scam that poses as survey research before offering participants a free cruise, which is really a front for a high-pressure timeshare sales tactic.

The scheme involves automated telephone calls, known as robocalls, that use a handful of survey questions as a way to get around do-not-call lists in Canada and the U.S.

In a number of calls reported in Canada, the recording asks a series of questions ostensibly on behalf of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, including about MP pensions, then offers participants a free cruise in the Bahamas. People who have accepted report being subjected to high-pressure sales tactics intended to sell them timeshares, according to reports online.

Troy Lanigan, president of the CTF, said the organization has nothing to do with the calls, known as the Love Boat scam.

"I don’t even want to tell you how frustrating it is," he said, after speaking to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, the CRTC, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and the Better Business Bureau.

"There’s not a lot [we can do]."

Lanigan said he tried to trace the phone numbers that appear on recipients' call display, but the callers, who say they're from the Independent Survey Group, use a method called spoofing to get a fake number to appear.

"It’s terribly embarrassing for us. You feel so powerless," Lanigan said.

"If a vendor makes a mistake, you phone the vendor, you get it corrected it right away, you apologize to the people involved and you move on. But in this case, you're fighting a ghost. You just spend time researching it online and trying to track it down."

Lanigan blogged about the problem on the CTF's website at the end of June in an attempt to tell supporters. He said the people who first complained to them about the calls aren't even supporters or on their mailing list.

He's asking anyone who gets a call to phone the CRTC, which regulates telecommunications in Canada, at 1-866-580-3625, and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501. For the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, cite reference number 738231.