Nova Scotia·CBC Investigates

CPP phone line misdial could win you a Caribbean cruise

Experts warn consumers about a marketing strategy that relies on clumsy dialing and high-pressure tactics.

Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says telemarketers often rely on fat finger dialing to find customers

Authorities say there are marketing strategies that rely on clumsy dialing and high-pressure tactics. (iStock)

You call a 1-800 number looking for information about the Canada Pension Plan and before you know it, you've won a complimentary Caribbean cruise to the Bahamas.

You've just been snagged in a marketing strategy that authorities say relies on clumsy dialing and high-pressure tactics. As a CBC News investigation has found, it's a strategy that spreads because of poor website management.

Alex Mason, a producer with CBC's Mainstreet, recently dialed a 1-800 number he thought belonged to Service Canada. Instead, he heard a recorded message encouraging him to complete a survey that led to an offer of a free cruise with Holiday Cruise Line out of Palm Beach, Fla.

"You slip right into the survey, which seemed weird, seemed suspicious," he says.

"Then when you find out you won, there's that certain amount of intellectual discipline that you need just to be able to hang up because there's this small part of your mind that's like, 'Now wait a minute, did I really win a cruise?'"

It turns out the number Mason dialed was one digit off from the federal government's toll-free number. Coincidence? Maybe.

'They'll make whatever money that they can'

But the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, a branch of the RCMP, says telemarketers often buy up numbers similar to heavily used toll-free numbers.

Daniel Williams of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says telemarketers often buy up numbers similar to heavily used toll-free numbers. (CBC)

"We've seen all sorts of government numbers, private company numbers, seed catalogue businesses, anything that enough people would be dialing that it would be worth their while that if you misdial and reach them, that they'll make whatever money that they can off you," says Daniel Williams of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

The mistake is often referred to as fat finger dialing.

Another problem is careless copying from one website to another.

"It's only going to be as accurate as the effort people put in, so if folks are copying and pasting a little carelessly, a lot of misinformation is going to be out there," says Williams.

Wrong number shows up on non-travel websites

CBC News has learned the erroneous 1-800 number shows up on several non-travel websites, most likely because people who built the sites simply copied and pasted the number without verifying it.

The highest-profile example is the site of Alberta Health Services, the provincial health board. The number appears numerous times in a document designed to explain financial aid available to cancer patients.

"Unfortunately, human error caused the wrong number to be entered into the document," said Bruce Conway, a senior media relations advisor with Alberta Health Services.

"To ensure there are no other errors, we are currently reviewing all sources of help documents available on our website.

"In addition, our patient education team with CancerControl Alberta has been working on updating all of the patient education documents to a provincial template for quite some time and will instruct all staff on the project to be extra diligent when double checking the resource numbers."

Holiday Cruise Line facing potential suits

As for the cruise offer, you're told on the phone you only have to pay a $59 port fee.

But CBC News found examples where customers said they ended up paying other fees or were sucked into high-pressure time-share seminars once they arrived in Palm Beach for their trip.

Gabe Frost of Indiana filed a complaint with Florida's Department of Consumer Services after he signed up for a cruise with Holiday Cruise Line earlier this year.

"Once we arrived, we were sent to the welcome centre where you had to go before you could check into your room. and that's where we were informed in order to get our boarding passes, we would need to do a two- to four-hour presentation on a time-share," he said.

CBC News found online testimonials from people who appear to be happy passengers of the cruise line. Other online reviews are negative.

The company is facing several potential class-action suits in the U.S. for allegedly making robocalls and sending unsolicited text messages.

CBC News asked to speak with a company manager but did not get a call back.

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