The scourge of telemarketing

Last night, I got a phone call just as I came home from the grocery store, carrying in the first load of bags. It was a long-distance ring, a bad sign, since that’s often a signal for telemarketing calls.

Sure enough, it was someone from a wilderness federation who wanted to ask for money. It seemed I had given $15 to a door-to-door canvasser, out of sympathy, and now I was on their calling list.

I cut him off and said I was busy unpacking groceries. I’m not a big supporter of this charity, if it is indeed a charity. After the canvasser left, I’d checked the slip I was given and realized it wasn’t an official charitable receipt for tax purposes.

Canadians might get some relief from telemarketers when the CRTC finishes setting up its national do not call list. But don’t hold your breath. There are plenty of exemptions:

* Registered charities (calls made by them or on their behalf)
* Political parties
* Calls made for the purpose of public opinion surveys
* Newspapers of general circulation (for subscription solicitation)
* And businesses with whom you have an existing business relationship (for example, businesses from which you have purchased goods or services within last 18 months).

Now here’s a question, sparked by a complaint I received from Larry (reprinted below). What if your bank calls you to pitch expensive and useless insurance for a credit card? Does that fall under the exemption for an existing business relationship?

If so, you should hang up on the bank’s outsourced telemarketers since may get talked into paying too much. But if you’re as lucky as Larry, you’ll find a champion at the bank to help out.

Author: Ellen Roseman

Consumer advocate and personal finance author and instructor.

14 thoughts on “The scourge of telemarketing”

  1. Add those guys trying to sell energy contracts to the scourge list.

    This morning, Saturday at 10:30 am I hear frantic doorbell ringing and knocking on my front door. You’d think the house was on fire or something. I open it to some guy from Summit.

    When I open it and lace into him for being an idiot for the way he was ringing and knocking, I get no apology, but he starts launching into his sales pitch.

    Moron. If anyone from Summit is reading this you may want to have a talk with some of your employees. Their behavior is doing you no favors.

  2. It’s too bad about charities being exempt. I gave money once to UNICEF, which I now feel was a mistake — they are aggressive and make heavy use of telemarketing, as well as direct mail.

    I wonder how much of my donation went to support their fundraising efforts, rather than helping children in developing countries, and I resent receiving all this direct mail from them that just gets pitched into the recycling bin. They called me a few weeks ago on a Sunday evening to ask for more money.

  3. I don’t give to any charitable phone solicitations, no matter how worthy. My observation is that once you do, you are on their list and they can be very persistent.

    As far as the ‘do not call list’ is concerned, it seems to me that the exceptions are so broad as to make it practically worthless. When somebody rings, I quickly terminate the call if I am not interested.

  4. I knew a fellow who worked in a telemarketing centre. According to him, the best thing you can do is hang up on them. It seems so rude, however, they are trained to sell no matter what your response is. So “no” just may not cut it, as they will always have a comeback.

    Generally, I say that my policy is to not buy from or donate to a telemarketing campaign and then hang up.

    As for door knockers… I have resorted to not answering my door anymore.

  5. Some time ago, I found this website:|K=224217

    It’s a “do not contact” service provided by the Canadian Marketing Association. It hasn’t eliminated telemarkerters, just those who are members of the association. It has resulted in a pretty big reduction. I guess Ludwick The Mover and the people who want to sell me a security system for my condo apartment aren’t members.

    Highly recommended while we wait for the CRTC.

  6. The Canadian Marketing Association’s do not contact service covers solicitations by mail,fax and phone. But it does NOT cover door-to-door sales pitches.

    So, if you’re like Joren (above) who hates the energy sellers coming to his door, you can’t get rid of them by registering with the CMA. You have to put up a sign at your door saying, “No solicitations” and hope they respect it.

  7. Ellen,

    You are correct that the CMA doesn’t include door-to-door sales. Unless, I guess, they are members.

    My wife, who works for a small non-profit with a storefront on Bathurst Street, gets the energy guys all the time. They apparently represent themselves as some kind of official people who begin the pitch by asking to see your energy bill.

    She also deals with a lot of low-income people at her food bank who have been taken in by the energy sales guys since the pitch is “lower payments” and “sign up now”! They also suffer from low education and limited English skills.

    I love a competitive marketplace, but it has to be tied to what we economists call “perfect information”. Or at least people who can establish the information.

    I’d like to hear some ideas about how to deal with the energy sellers. Other than brutality.

  8. Here’s an email I got from Dave about annoying telemarketing from Bell Sympatico and Bell’s responsze.

    “Today I received my third call this week from a Bell Canada telemarketer promoting Sympatico. Three calls in such a short time would probably be annoying to even the most supportive of Bell’s customers but, since I am already on Bell’s do-not-call list, it borders on harassment.

    “I’ll spare you the history (the calls have been coming almost non-stop since June) and can report that everyone I have spoken to at Bell has been unfailingly friendly and apologetic. But the calls keep coming!

    “If no one else is complaining to you about this issue, then I’ll accept that I’m just an isolated case and you can ignore it. But I suspect otherwise. Thanks for the chance to vent.”

    From Kevin Crull, Bell’s president of residential services:

    “Thanks Ellen for passing along. You’re right, this is not the first! All complaints are related to Sympatico calls — and we think we have identified the problem…

    “The good news is that I have not heard similar complaints about ExpressVu or our Wireline Home Phone… We really regret this additional occurrence and will re-double our efforts to resolve the root cause. Sorry Dave!”

  9. I DO have a no solicitation sign on the many do you think that stops? Not the recent pounding knock, demanding to see a hydro bill and spouting nonsense about the huge increase to come that would only be prevented by signing now.

  10. Well, Kevin Crull, Bell’s president of residential services, it’s now July 2010 and I’m still receiving harassing telephone calls from Bell’s sales reps on my land line and cell phone (to which I’m charged per call).

    I’ve politely asked each sales rep to put me on the do not call list to which I’ve already been registered for over 3 years, but to no avail. Still receiving those pesky calls every day, several times per day.

    I finally took time out of my busy schedule to call Bell, only to be put on hold for 16 minutes, after which I was informed I would be put on the do not call list…again…but not until after 31 days. What’s with the 31 days? Why not now? Why am I receiving calls only from Bell. All other corporate telemarketers seem to respect my privacy.

    Does Bell really think I’ll sign up with them again in the future? A very poor and disrespectful marketing strategy.

  11. Same thing here. I get telemarketing calls from Bell Canada 1-2 times per week. I keep filing complaints online at

    Each time it seems to be from a different office. According to the do not call list website, you require: telemarketer’s name, company name, telephone number. Each time, the telemarketer told me only their first name, declined telling the last name, told me the city they were calling from (which is always different) but as soon as I asked the telephone number from which they were calling they hung up immediately.

    These calls do nothing but make me more adamant about refusing to ever use any Bell service.

  12. We terminated our Bell land line about 2 years ago and have had several calls a week since then. We also receive mailings about once a month with offers to return.

    My question is… If you can give us the supposedly unbeatable deals to get us back after we’ve left, why were we (long time customers) not being rewarded for our loyalty with these “deals” when we were still with Bell??

    Thanks, but no thanks!

    And thank goodness for Call Display. If I don’t recognize the number, I don’t answer.

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