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

Toronto Star - - SMART MONEY & BUSINESS - 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."

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