One of the largest collection agencies in the country has been hit with a $500,000 fine from the CRTC, CBC News has learned.
The federal regulator took the action after receiving complaints about automated phone calls made by iQor Canada between October 2011 and February 2013.
“They called consumers repeatedly who owed no debt at all or they called vulnerable consumers in dire financial difficulty at all hours and they didn’t identify on whose behalf they were calling,” said Andrea Rosen of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
IQor has up to 60 days to appeal the fine.
In an email to CBC News this week, the company said: "While it remains iQor's policy not to comment on pending regulatory matters, the company looks forward to a full review of this matter before the Commission."
IQor was the subject of an investigation by CBC News last year that discovered hundreds of complaints from across the country had been lodged against the company for phone calls they had received.
One of those complaints was from Robert Buisson in Laval, Que., who said the company called him at all hours of the day trying to collect on a phone bill.
“I told them, ‘I’m not the guy who owns this account. This account is owned by my father, first. And where did you get my phone number?’” Buisson said.
In fact, his father didn’t owe the money either.
In an email to CBC News at the time, iQor wrote that it “takes seriously any called placed to a wrong number and regrets the inconvenience caused to any consumer as a result.“
CBC News also profiled the case of Dave Johnson of Pembroke, Ont., earlier this month.
A different collection agency helped ruin his credit rating over an unpaid phone bill, and refused to accept the agency had been contacting the wrong Dave Johnson. It took three years to get his credit rating restored, he said.
“It’s so frustrating. You go around and around in circles. And instead of anything being resolved or repaired, your credit’s destroyed,” Johnson said.
A Canadian consumer advocacy group said calls from collection agencies have increased in the past decade as telecom companies have outsourced their bill collection practices. John Lawford of the Public Integrity Advocacy Centre thinks the CRTC needs to put the onus back on the phone companies.
“The phone companies originally had something of a duty to keep you on the network and try to work out a payment deal with you,” Lawson said. “Collection agencies are not known for wanting to work out a payment schedule with you. They are known for harassing you.”
Industry Minister James Moore told CBC News he’s aware of the problem involving collection agencies, and that it may be time to consider what Ottawa can do to address consumers’ complaints.
“I know there are stories out there, horror stories,” he said.
Moore added that “it might be useful” to have a parliamentary committee look into the matter.