Just as you're sitting down to dinner, the phone rings. It's a recorded sales pitch. Again. Can they do this? Learn the steps you can take to stop unwanted calls.
Who can and can't call you
You might say there are three kinds of calls that can be irritating:
- Legitimate sales calls from legitimate businesses—which are legal but you can stop them from contacting you, with some exceptions; see below for details.
- Sales calls that use practices that are not allowed—which you can report to help stop them from using these practices.
- Calls from fraudulent companies that are trying to scam you—which are illegal and you can report to help stop such scams from happening.
What is a telemarketer and what they can and can't do
When someone uses the telephone to make unsolicited attempts to sell a product or service or ask for a donation, they are said to be "telemarketing".
- display to you the number that they're calling from or another number where they can be reached
- provide you—if you ask—with a phone number where you can speak to someone about the telemarketing call and an email or postal address of someone you can write to about the telemarketing call
- call or send faxes only between the hours of 9:00 am to 9:30 pm on weekdays (Monday to Friday), and 10:00 am to 6:00 pm on weekends (Saturday and Sunday)
As well, with some specific exceptions, telemarketers can not use technology that dials telephone numbers automatically and delivers a pre-recorded message. Such devices are called Automatic Dialing and Announcing Devices. These devices can be used:
- by police and fire departments,
- by schools and hospitals, and
- for appointment reminders and thank you calls.
How to know if caller ID might be spoofed
Caller ID is an option available on most phones that allows you to see information on the identity and number of the caller before answering the call. Some telemarketers mask or falsify this information. This practice is called "spoofing" and is an indication the call may not be legitimate. It is also a violation of the telemarketing rules, and can lead to significant fines.
A spoofed number can appear as a string of digits such as 000-000-0000 or 123-456-7890, a random number, or another company or person’s real number.
If you receive a telemarketing call from someone that you believe has spoofed the caller ID, you can report the call to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre on their website or by toll-free phone at 1-888-495-8501.
If you get a call from someone who says they represent a company or a government agency seeking personal information, hang up and call back to check the authenticity of the request. You can find their phone number on your account statement, in the phone book or on the organization's website. Never give out personal information such as account numbers, Social Insurance Number (SIN), mother's maiden name, passwords or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls.
How they get your number
Telemarketers may obtain your telephone number in a number of ways:
- from companies that are in the business of generating lists of numbers
- from contest forms or applications that you fill out
- by selecting random numbers to call
- from companies that you deal with
To lessen the chances a telemarketer gets your number, be careful about providing your number to anyone. On forms, always check off any privacy option that says you "Do not wish to be contacted". If there is no privacy option, be cautious about providing your telephone number to a company. You may also ask companies you do business with to not share your telephone number or any other personal information with any third parties.
Watching out for scam calls
A quite distinct type of unwanted call is one from a fraudulent company that is trying to scam you. These calls are illegal and you can report them to help stop these scams from happening.
For example, a caller might pretend to represent a well-known company like Microsoft and claim that they are checking into a computer problem or virus. The caller then says that they can help fix or "clean" your computer, and insists on a fee once they have taken control of your computer remotely. This is a fraudulent practice and is a criminal offence.
Or a caller might say you’ve won a prize. All you have to do is pay for the shipping and handling fees or purchase a product to qualify. This is deceptive telemarketing. It is prohibited by law and is a criminal offence.
See below for details on how to report these prohibited practices.
Step 1. Dealing with the unwanted call
If you get an unsolicited phone call to buy something or make a donation:
- If the caller doesn't identify the company or charity they are calling on behalf of, ask them. They have to tell you.
- Don't give out information about your bank or credit card.
- Don't be afraid to hang up.
You have the right to request written information, a call back number, and time to think over any offer.
If you want to make a complaint about the call, make sure you get the name of the organization that called or the number where they can be reached. By law, telemarketers must give you their name and number.
If you want to end the conversation, some phrases you can use include:
"I need some time to think about this, at what number can I call you back?"
"Please put my name and number on your Do Not Call list."
"Sorry, I have a policy never to buy anything over the phone."
"No thank you"
If a telemarketer calls seeking a charitable donation, ask the telemarketer to call you back or ask for a callback number. In the meantime, call up the charity yourself to confirm that they are running a fundraising campaign. You can also check the Charities Listings on the Canada Revenue Agency website to ensure it is a registered charity.
Step 2. Register on the National Do Not Call List
To help reduce the number of unwanted calls you receive, you can register your phone number on the National Do Not Call List. This is a free service from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
When you sign up to have your phone number included on the National Do Not Call List, companies making unsolicited calls can no longer contact you. (Some callers are exempt; see below.)
After you sign up, your number will be added to the List within 24 hours. Telemarketers have 31 days to update their own information and make sure they don't call you in their next round of telemarketing.
Don't expect all calls to stop immediately. You could still receive calls within the first 31 days of signing up.
How to register
You can register your cellphone, home phone or fax number either online or by phone:
- on the National Do Not Call List website
- by calling toll-free 1-866-580-3625
- from a teletypewriter (TTY) device, dialing 1-888-362-5889
Some callers are exempt
Some telemarketing calls are exempt from the National Do Not Call List. Charities, political candidates, market researchers, and newspapers (looking for subscriptions) are still allowed to call.
As well, companies with whom you have an "existing business relationship" are also exempt. For example, if you have done business with a company in the previous 18 months, that company can call you.
After 18 months the company must stop calling if you're on the List, unless you give permission otherwise.
Telemarketers making exempt calls must maintain their own "do not call" lists. If you do not want to be called by these telemarketers, you can ask to be put on their do not call lists. They are obliged to do so within 14 days. You may want to keep a record of the date of your request.
Step 3. Make a complaint about telemarketing calls
Once you register on the National Do Not Call List, you can make a complaint about any violation of the telemarketing rules. For example, you might complain if:
- you receive a telemarketing call after registering on the national list
- you receive a call outside of permitted calling hours
- a telemarketer refuses to put your name and number on their do not call list
To make a complaint:
- go to the National Do Not Call List website
- call toll-free 1-866-580-3625
- from a teletypewriter (TTY) device, dial 1-888-362-5889
Have the telephone number and name of the telemarketer that appeared on the caller ID screen or that the person over the phone gave you.
The CRTC investigates complaints about telemarketing calls. They may contact you to get more information about your complaint. If they find that a telemarketer hasn't followed the rules, the CRTC can fine them for each violation.
The CRTC will not contact you to let you know what happened with your complaint.
Step 4. Report a deceptive telemarketing practice
If a telemarketer breaks the federal or provincial laws prohibiting deceptive telemarketing practices, you can report them. An example of deceptive telemarketing is if a caller says that you've won a prize, and all you have to do is pay for the shipping and handling fees or purchase a product to qualify.
To report deceptive telemarketing practices to the federal Competition Bureau:
- Toll-free: 1-800-348-5358
- Web: www.competitionbureau.gc.ca
To report deceptive telemarketing practices to the provincial Consumer Protection BC:
- Toll-free: 1-888-564-9963
- Web: www.consumerprotectionbc.ca
Step 5. Contact authorities if you think the call is fraudulent
Even if your phone number is on the National Do Not Call List, you might still receive fraudulent telemarketing calls. If you receive a call that you think may be fraudulent, contact law enforcement authorities or the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre on their website or by toll-free phone at 1-888-495-8501.
Does a US telemarketer have to follow the Canadian telemarketer rules?
Yes. Telemarketers from the US and other countries who make calls to Canadians must still follow the CRTC’s telemarketing rules.
If a Canadian organization hires a telemarketing agency outside of Canada, and there's a complaint against the organization, it will be investigated by the CRTC.
Whenever you receive a telemarketing call, you can ask the caller to add your phone number to their internal do not call list.
Are calls from a debt collector considered telemarketing calls?
No. Debt collection calls are not considered telemarketing calls. Debt collectors do not have to keep internal do not call lists.
Can I put my business number on the National Do Not Call List?
The public is the primary focus of the National Do Not Call List, but you can also register a business telephone number to the List. However, complaints for calls made to a business number are not accepted, as business-to-business calls are exempt from the List.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) established the National Do Not Call List and regulates telemarketing calls.
If you receive a call that you think may be fraudulent, contact law enforcement authorities or the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
You can report deceptive telemarketing practices to the federal Competition Bureau.
You can report deceptive telemarketing practices to the provincial Consumer Protection BC.