06/29/2012 11:59 EDT | Updated 08/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Who Calls More Than Your Ex? Telemarketers


Buried in Ottawa's omnibus budget bill is a piece of little-known legislation that the government hopes will save taxpayers' money and help alleviate those pesky dinner-time telemarketers.

You know the ones: A loud boat horn blowing with a voice that says "This is your Captain calling..." or the ones that can magically eliminate debt for you.

Unfortunately, Stephen Harper's Conservatives are missing the boat by trying to make reputable Canadian telemarketers pay for the national "Do Not Call" list. The government may want to shift the cost away from taxpayers, but this does nothing to stop those annoying calls from U.S. and overseas telemarketers.

I know this because we own a licensed phone company, called a Competitive Local Exchange Carrier (CLEC), with 3.5 million active Canadian phone numbers, and I've seen how foreign scam artists ignore Canadian regulations, manipulate caller IDs and thumb their noses at Canadians attempting to enforce the law.

Technology is allowing these rogue telemarketers not only to get your phone number easily, but calling is so cheap that they simply call again and again despite having 10 million Canadian numbers registered on the "Do Not Call" list.

In the old days, cost was determined by a combination of where the call originated and where it ended. Today in the Internet world, cost is simply based on where the call is terminated.

For various reasons, such as Canada's advanced, ubiquitous telecommunications networks, on average it is cheaper to call Canada than the U.S. This lower cost inevitably increases the number of annoying calls from these foreign scoundrels.

And, without getting technical, often these telemarketers manipulate the caller ID so a call from Omaha looks like it's coming from Ottawa and its 613 area code. Again, technology easily allows this trick to be done to increase the likelihood of you answering.

Average consumers aren't expected to know these tricks, but people who should know better are even fooled. Earlier this year, a Bell Canada vice-president complained to me that he was being harassed by a number that was registered to my company, Iristel.

We looked into it and found it was a phone number that could only receive calls and could not make outgoing calls. These types of numbers are common for things like remotely setting your alarm system or turn on your cottage heating while driving north. We disconnected the number, as a goodwill gesture, and issued the rightful Iristel customer a new number.

It is easy for these telemarketers to collect phone numbers. They, or affiliated companies, run automated "dialers" that scan one phone number after another. If your line gets picked up or the scanner gets voicemail, then that number is added to their database and calls begin. If a fax tone is heard, they drop that number from their call list. This technology has made trading customer lists unnecessary.

Under the "Do Not Call" system, Canadians submit as many land-line and wireless numbers as they wish to an online database. Reputable telemarketers respect this list and do not call. Some organizations, like political parties, charities and any business you've used in the last 18 months, are exempt, too.

Currently managed by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and paid for by taxpayers, Ottawa has extended funding for the "Do Not Call" list for one more year. Then it wants telemarketers to pay.

But to truly make the list more effective, Ottawa must do other things such as tighten laws against caller ID manipulation as in the U.S. and negotiate bilateral agreements with other countries to work in tandem to enforce the "Do Not Call" list.

Until that happens, we'll be hearing more from the captain and his boat horn.