Silencing Annoying Phone Calls Since 2008

DNCL - A Canadian's choice, a telemarketer's responsibility

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How we got here

For many years, Canadians complained about receiving inconvenient and nuisance calls from telemarketers. The CRTC was given the responsibility to establish and enforce a do not call list, and on September 30, 2008, Canada’s National Do Not Call List (DNCL) was launched to give Canadians a choice.

Our mission

The CRTC seeks to ensure that Canadians have access to a world-class communication system.

Successes for Canadians

  • $3 million + in penalties & $740,000 in other payments
  • 11.9 million + cell and landline phone numbers registered to date
  • 10,000 telemarketers registered
  • 78% of canadians experienced fewer or no unsolicited calls in 2012

Timeline

  • September 30, 2008: National DNCL is launched
  • December 2008: 5 million numbers are registered on the National DNCL
  • August 2009: CRTC issues first monetary penalties totalling $24,000
  • October 2010: 10 million numbers are registered on the National DNCL
  • December 2010: Xentel DM pays $500,000 penalty for misuse of the charity exemption
  • December 2010: Bell Canada pays $1.3 million penalty for violating the National DNCL Rules
  • April 2011: Enforcement action against 85 companies for violating the National DNCL Rules
  • August 2011: GoodLife Fitness Centres pays $300,000 penalty for soliciting members without their consent
  • October 2011: Agreement with two Mexican-based companies promoting vacation packages
  • October 2011: CRTC co-founds and is appointed co-chair of the International Do Not Call Network
  • June 2012: CRTC completes first round of telemarketer on-site inspections
  • October 2012: CRTC takes action against telemarketers offering anti-virus software.
  • April 2013: Comwave Telenetworks Inc. pays $100,000 for violating the National DNCL Rules
  • September 2013: Numerous entities pay over $495,000 in penalties for technical violations to the Automatic Dialing-Announcing Devices Rules

A Canadian’s choice, a telemarketer’s responsibility

Canadians value their privacy and want a choice about whether or not to receive telemarketing calls. In 2008, the CRTC launched the National Do Not Call List (DNCL) to give Canadians this choice and to ensure telemarketers respect their privacy. Those who want to receive fewer telemarketing calls can register their telephone and fax numbers on the list in a few easy steps.

Telemarketers must register with the National DNCL operator. They are not allowed to call numbers on the list and must make certain that their calling lists are up to date. When a number is registered, it is added to the National DNCL within 24 hours. Telemarketers then have 31 days to remove the number from their own lists.

When Parliament amended the Telecommunications Act to create the National DNCL regime, it allowed certain types of calls to be exempt from it. The exemptions include calls made by or on behalf of:

  • registered charities
  • newspapers solely selling subscriptions
  • political parties, leadership contestants and candidates
  • a business to another business
  • companies that have an existing business relationship with a consumer (i.e., within the last 18 months), and
  • organizations solely conducting market research, polls or surveys

Further to this legislation, the CRTC sets the rules that telemarketers must follow when they send faxes, make live calls and make calls using Automatic Dialing-Announcing Devices to Canadians. The CRTC then takes appropriate compliance and enforcement measures when they do not comply.

Ensuring telemarketers follow the rules

Several approaches are used to ensure Canadians who have registered their numbers on the National DNCL do not receive telemarketing calls.

Education and outreach

When the list was launched, we invested time to explain the new rules to telemarketers, as well as to the law firms and associations that represent them. Now that the National DNCL is well-established, we maintain regular contact with telemarketers to remind them of their responsibilities. We also empower Canadians so that they can recognize and report telemarketers who break the rules. For instance, we have developed a note pad to help Canadians write down all the information needed in order to file a complaint with the National DNCL when they receive an unwanted telemarketing call.

Partnerships

Over the years, we partnered with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre on telemarketing cases involving fraud. Given that telemarketing call centres are located around the world, we have also established strong partnerships with foreign enforcement agencies. In 2011, we partnered with the Australian Communications and Media Authority and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to create the International Do Not Call Network. This organization, which the CRTC co-chairs, brings together enforcement agencies from more than a dozen countries to address common issues and share best practices.

Enforcement

The CRTC conducts investigations and imposes monetary penalties if telemarketers, or those on behalf of whom calls are placed, are violating the rules—up to $1,500 for an individual and up to $15,000 for a corporation for each violation. To bring telemarketers into compliance, we hold discussions with individuals, companies and organizations engaged in telemarketing, which may lead to a settlement that includes a monetary penalty and corrective measures. We also issue warnings and citations, conduct inspections and issue notices of violation. The enforcement approach varies from one investigation to the next and is determined by such factors as the number of violations, the scope of the conduct and the nature of the violation (minor, serious, very serious, etc.).

Investigating complaints

Each year, the CRTC receives more than 100,000 complaints from Canadians who receive unsolicited telemarketing calls. To investigate a complaint, we need some basic information: the phone number where the call was received, the name or phone number of the telemarketer and the date the call was received. Once we receive this information, we can launch an investigation.

If they are complete, the complaints are grouped by company name or phone number. This allows us to look for trends, determine whether a rule has been broken and prioritize which complaints to investigate. We will often focus on the telemarketers whose conduct causes the most nuisance and inconvenience to Canadians so that our enforcement actions will have a higher impact and benefit as many consumers as possible.

Over the past five years, we have adopted new techniques to improve the outcome of our investigations. In 2012, for example, we conducted the first inspections of 13 telemarketing companies located in Toronto and Montreal. We continue to sharpen our investigative techniques and share best practices with our partners in Canada and abroad.

Our message to telemarketers

Since the launch of the National DNCL, our enforcement actions have resulted in $3.4 million in penalties and $741,000 in other payments. We have also issued close to 150 citations and more than 80 notices of violations and 130 compliance letters to individuals and organizations. Below is a summary of the most meaningful actions we have taken.

Robocalls

Companies sometimes use devices that dial telephone numbers and automatically deliver a pre-recorded message. Under the CRTC’s rules, these robocalls can only be made to promote or sell services if a consumer has given prior consent to receive these types of calls. We have successfully completed investigations and issued Notices of Violation where companies had not obtained prior express consent from consumers.

For example, Bell Canada, Rogers Communications, Telus Communications made over $740,000 in payments to post-secondary institutions as part of settlements reached with the CRTC. GoodLife Fitness Centres Inc. agreed to pay an administrative monetary penalty of $300,000 as a result of another investigation. We also took action against two companies that promote debt relief and consolidation services to Canadians, Ontario Consumer Credit Assistance and Quick Connect Solution, which paid $80,000 in penalties.

International agreements

In 2011, the CRTC investigated two Mexican companies selling and promoting vacation packages that were making calls to Canadians registered on the National DNCL. With the help of Mexico’s consumer protection agency, PROFECO, we struck an agreement with the two companies. Before making any telemarketing calls in the future, Marketing 4 Sunset Group and Cancun Unlimited agreed to subscribe to the National DNCL and ensure their calling lists are updated on a regular basis.

Political entities

In 2013, the CRTC conducted a wide-ranging investigation of how political parties, elected officials and telemarketers use robocalls to deliver messages to Canadians. We found that, in some cases, the messages failed to properly identify who was making the call and on whose behalf the call was made. Also, they failed to provide contact information for the originator of the message such as an address or a telephone number, or display a number where the caller could be reached. To date, entities across the political spectrum have paid close to $400,000 in penalties. They also agreed to change their practices in order to raise awareness and compliance with the rules.

Failure to register

Registering with the National DNCL operator is a basic requirement for all telemarketers calling on their own behalf. Those that wish to make telemarketing calls, and do not fall under the exemptions, must also purchase a subscription for the area codes they intend to call. In 2011, we took enforcement action against 85 telemarketers that had failed to register with the National DNCL operator or download the list. Furthermore, in 2013, Comwave Telenetworks paid a $100,000 penalty after our investigation found, that while the company did subscribe to the National DNCL, there were months where it failed to update its calling list. As a result, telemarketing calls were being made to Canadians who were registered on the National DNCL.

Calls by independent telemarketers

Companies are not only responsible for the telemarketing calls they make, but also for those made on their behalf. In 2010, we investigated complaints from Canadians who had registered their numbers on the National DNCL were nonetheless being called by independent telemarketers to promote and sell Bell Canada’s services. We received similar complaints from consumers who had requested that their numbers be added to Bell Canada’s internal do not call list. A settlement was reached with Bell Canada that included a record administrative monetary penalty of $1.3 million.

A success – and yet more work to do

The CRTC is succeeding in its efforts to ensure telemarketers respect the privacy of Canadians. To date, nearly 10,000 telemarketers have registered with the National DNCL operator, including some that are located in the United States, India and the Philippines. Also, polls conducted throughout the past five years have shown that the majority of Canadians who have registered their numbers on the list report receiving fewer unsolicited calls.

However, there is still work to be done. Certain telemarketers who knowingly ignore the rules and use technology to hide their identities present an ongoing challenge for us and for enforcement agencies around the globe. With our efforts and with the help of Canadians, we will continue to track down these rogue telemarketers.