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January 29, 2009

Canada's Registry Abused by Fraudsters

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor


Canada’s Do Not Call registry, launched in September 2008, appears to be open to abuse by crooks and may as a result be headed to some changes.

The Globe and Mail newspaper reported that the Consumers' Association of Canada says it has been inundated with complaints from people who have been called by scam artists after placing their phone numbers on the registry. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the country’s communications regulator, sells the list online for a fee to marketers to scrub those numbers off their databases.

 
The CAC says people didn't understand what they were getting into when they signed onto the DNC and gave out their phone numbers. These are now in the hands of all sorts of what it calls ‘pirates’ that consumers never knew existed.
 
“‘You can buy any list you want of people who subscribe to the do-not-call registry online, ‘“CAC president Bruce Cran told the newspaper. “’The whole of Toronto costs you 50 bucks for 600,000 names. That's just perfect for any telemarketer, because these are good names which they would otherwise have to pay money for to verify. In addition to that, there's no index list of cell phone numbers that you can get. However, people were encouraged to put their cell phone numbers on there as well.’”
 
Penalties for list misuse run as high as $15,000 for a corporation or $1,500 for an individual. Yet enforcement is challenging because the paper says it is difficult to fine fraudsters based in or outside of Canada.
 
The issue prompted the opposition New Democratic Party Member of Parliament (MP) critic for consumer affairs, Glenn Thibault, to ask the federal Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart if making the phone numbers on the registry available is a violation of the country’s privacy laws.
 
“’We have received a copy of [Mr. Thibault's] letter and we are just gathering information at this stage,’” the commissioner’s spokesperson, Valerie Lawton, told the newspaper. “’But we were aware of this issue before and we have discussed it with the CRTC. We have been in contact with them and understand that they are looking at it. They are taking it seriously.’”
 
CRTC is investigating the issue but it could not give any timelines.

“’We are aware of the situation and we are trying to assess how to respond,’” said commission spokesperson Denis Carmel.
 
The MP said he has received numerous calls from people who believe they have been called by telemarketers who obtained their phone numbers from the do-not-call registry.
“’We've all heard these stories where someone gets taken advantage of,’” said Thibault. “’And if this does happen because we've forgotten to cross an 'i' or dot a 't' then shame on us. We’re putting this in place to help, not to make it worse.’”

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Tim Gray


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