You are here

Stop Unwanted Calls - Understand your legal rights

Understand your legal rights

Who can and can't call you

You might say there are three kinds of calls that can be irritating:

  1. Legitimate sales calls from legitimate businesses—which are legal but you can stop them from contacting you, with some exceptions; see below for details.
  2. Sales calls that use practices that are not allowed—which you can report to help stop them from using these practices.
  3. 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".

The law in Canada says that a telemarketer must identify at the beginning of the call who they are as well as the purpose of the call. Telemarketers are also subject to rules that they must:

  • 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.