Toronto Star

Readers regret to find there’s no ducking the duct problem

Despite CRTC’s penalty warnings about evading the do-not-call list, cleaning services just won’t let up

- Ellen Roseman

In March 2015, I wrote about unsolicite­d calls from companies offering to clean the air ducts in your home from dust and dirt.

At the time, Canada’s telecom regulator had announced $100,000-plus in penalties for nine ductcleani­ng services that made unsolicite­d calls without being registered with the national do-not-call list (DNCL).

Most duct cleaning pitches were from call centres in Karachi, Pakistan, the CRTC said. They used fake or spoofed phone numbers to avoid being identified on a customer’s call display.

Feeling encouraged by the zeal to lay charges, I said the frequent calls from duct cleaning firms “will stop soon.”

Boy, was I wrong. Star readers keep telling me that the pesky duct-cleaning callers just won’t quit.

Here is a taste of the emails I get from frustrated people who find my 2015 column popping up on Google. I left out their last names to preserve their privacy.

Paul: “This is harassment at a ridiculous level. I got 18 calls yesterday alone and two already this morning by 11 a.m. They have various cloned numbers to make it look like a local call coming in.”

Mohammed: “I said ‘Not interested.’ I hung up. Then I tried another tactic. When he says ducts, I say ducks. ‘Yes, we have plenty of ducks and they use special shampoo, not like our hens.’ It still doesn’t work. They call again and again and try to repeat the word ducts, regardless of my talking about ducks.”

Samantha: “I get daily calls. They start at 7 a.m. and go on until 11 p.m. I am irritated by the lack of respect and abusive language when I ask for a callback number. I’ve considered stopping home phone service, but I have family and children out of the country. My hands are tied.”

Marcia: “Sean calls me at least three times a week about duct cleaning. Today, I asked him for his phone number. He stayed on the line and mumbled.”

Kelly: “For the past year, I’ve reported the call dates and times to the CRTC. I get the same response, ‘Thanks, we’ll send your complaint to the CRTC investigat­ors.’ How many investigat­ors does the CRTC have? What does it do with the fines? Well, enough venting. Pun intended.”

Joanne: “I was taken in by the scam (shamefully). I paid a technician $2,750 after being quoted $110. I am currently disputing it with my credit card company. I’m now on the DNCL, but received three calls today before 10 a.m.”

The CRTC is clear about its rules for unsolicite­d communicat­ions:

If companies engage in telemarket­ing or hire an agency to do so for them, they must register and subscribe to the national DNCL (operated by Bell Canada).

Companies must also maintain their own internal do not call list. When a call recipient asks not to be contacted, a company must add the name and number to its own list within 14 days.

When making a call, companies must identify who they are.

They must display the phone number they are calling from or the number that the consumer can call to reach them.

They can call only between 9 a.m. and 9.30 p.m. on weekdays and between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekends.

The penalty is up to $1,500 for an individual and up to $15,000 for a company for each violation of the telemarket­ing rules

Unwanted air duct cleaning calls are a major concern for the CRTC, said Alain Garneau, director of telecommun­ications enforcemen­t, in a phone interview.

“We have a lot of ongoing investigat­ions in this industry. It doesn’t matter if companies are located outside Canada. They have to register with us and respect the DNCL. But when dealing with call centres in Pakistan, I’d be surprised if they registered with the DNCL. It’s very low on their priority list.”

The CRTC is working to improve its capacity to reach beyond Canadian borders. It has agreements to co-operate with regulators and law enforcemen­t agencies in the U.S. and Australia. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India could be signing up soon.

Caller ID spoofing has made it more difficult to stop nuisance calls or fraudulent pitches. The CRTC estimates that 45 per cent of the complaints received by the national DNCL operator in 2015 involved the use of fake phone numbers.

Last November, the CRTC told Canada’s phone companies to find ways to help customers block or filter nuisance calls. Most voice providers argued in their submission­s that the technology does not yet exist.

So, there it stands. Canadians have more protection from email spam than from unwanted phone solicitati­ons.

My earlier optimism was misplaced. Please don’t tell me you’re upset with the CRTC. Tell your MP. Tell Heritage Minister Melanie Joly, who is responsibl­e for the CRTC. Or tell Judith LaRocque, recently named as CRTC acting chair with the departure of Jean-Pierre Blais.

Let’s hope they answer their phones. Ellen Roseman’s column appears in Smart Money.

 ?? FRANK RUMPENHORS­T/AFP/GETTY IMAGES ?? One reader’s response to annoying duct cleaning calls? "We have plenty of ducks."
FRANK RUMPENHORS­T/AFP/GETTY IMAGES One reader’s response to annoying duct cleaning calls? "We have plenty of ducks."
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