Hamiltonian Peter J. Compton says telemarketers are hounding his family — and he's convinced the government and the CRTC is powerless to stop them.
Back in 2010, Compton, his wife Joannie and her mother Harriet Jameson registered their phone numbers with the CRTC's national do-not-call list, which was set up to give Canadians a reprieve from telemarketers. About two weeks later, all three started getting telemarketing calls advertising “air duct cleaning services” in the GTA.
“We told the people there that we live in a condo and do not have air ducts, are on a do not call list, and asked not to be called again,” Compton said.
But the calls have persisted — for three years.
“The air duct cleaning service calls two to three times a day, seven days a week, at any time of day,” Compton said.
When pressed for their location in Urdu (Compton speaks it fluently), several telemarketers have told him they're based in Pakistan — but won't reveal the name of their company.
Compton's calls are indicative of a larger problem, a CBC investigation has found.
In an undercover investigation, Marketplace brought hidden cameras into a Karachi, Pakistan, call centre that markets air duct cleaning services to Canadian households.
Undercover footage captured a supervisor telling employees to lie to customers, saying there is “no need to worry” about Canada's do-not-call list.
Compton's dealings with the CRTC have left him feeling “powerless,” he says. He's called the CRTC, OPP, RCMP and both the provincial and federal government.
“All of them knew about this going on, but none of them has taken any action on our behalf,” Compton said. “Filing a complaint with the CRTC did not work, since we are still being harassed daily.”
But the CRTC is taking this seriously, says compliance and enforcement chief Andrea Rosen. What's making things especially difficult is that these telemarketers use a technical trick called “spoofing,” which fools caller ID into displaying a different number than the one that's actually calling. That makes them exceedingly hard to catch.
“The problem with [spoofing] … is that it's very difficult to detect who those people are and find out where they're calling from,” Rosen explains. “If we can't find them, we can't act.”
Compton's had to deal with that first hand.
“They always change their number to a fake 416 or 905 area code,” he said. “We have run out of all caller ID-blocking slots, with over 200 blocked numbers now."CRTC compliance and enforcement chief Andrea Rosen says the agency has limited power to stop fraudulent telemarketing calls from outside Canada. (CBC)
The call centres are confident that they're untraceable, too.
In Marketplace's undercover investigation, a Karachi call centre supervisor was caught on camera reassuring a new hire that they can't be caught.
“There is no need to worry,” he says. “The customer will not be able to report us. They can't trace us.”
Being so well hidden, the telemarketers have little to fear, and that impunity can lead to vicious harassment — something Compton's 81-year-old mother in law found out first hand.
Compton says most of Harriet's friends live in the GTA, and she can't tell if it's a friend calling or a telemarketer. And they haven't been polite.
“After reminding the air duct telemarketer that she had no duct to clean, the man called her a 'dumb b---h' and 'Canadian a--hole.'”
The entire process has left Compton with a bad taste in his mouth when it comes to the CRTC. “I am convinced that we have too many bureaucratic agencies that are either unable, or unwilling, to help.”
The CRTC does have some power, but only with companies it can find.
Since 2009, the government regulatory body has launched 18 investigations into duct cleaning companies and has imposed a total of $43,500 in penalties against five of these companies, the CRTC said in an email to CBC Hamilton.
Only five of the 18 companies have been fined because the CRTC either doesn't have enough information to identify the telemarketer in question or the investigation is still in progress, the email reads.
In October 2012, the CRTC fined two Indian software companies a total $507,000 for calling Canadians registered on the do-not-call-list. Rosen says the CRTC has imposed $3 million in fines since 2008 for similar violations. The difference is that the software companies weren't concealing their identities.
The spoofing call centres are beyond the CRTC's reach, Rosen says.
“No one has the power of changing anything when spoofing is in play,” she adds. “I don't care who the agency is. There's no way to determine who the person is that's calling and from what location, if the number is spoofed.”
However, she encourages Canadians to lodge complaints so other agencies might take action.
“The do-not-call list is not their only avenue,” she said. “The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre is their avenue, the police is their avenue, the Competition Bureau is their avenue, and these should use every opportunity to see whether or not something can be done.”
In fact, the do-not-call-list is not an avenue at all when it comes to these questionable firms, Rosen says, because they don't even use it. Legitimate telemarketers are supposed to register and subscribe to the do-not-call-list. The spoofers don't bother.
“They're just calling everybody they can to identify people who will answer the phone and talk to them,” Rosen says.
Even when the authorities can identify the callers, there's no guarantee they can make the calls stop. The CRTC has no jurisdiction outside Canada, so even in cases where it has levied fines, the offenders can't be forced to pay up.
Rosen says the CRTC is working with other countries to develop an international network that can more effectively track and penalize fraudulent call centres.
But until then, these call centres can continue to operate freely, leaving Canadians frustrated and helpless.
“We are embarrassed and ashamed of our Canadian government for not putting an end to this illegal, fraudulent, malicious and hateful activity,” Compton said.