Do (Not?) Call Lists

The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that Canada’s do-not-call registry is being sold for next to nothing to international scammers who are barraging these households with phone calls, but are largely beyond the reach of Canadian law.

Two things don’t ring true to me about this story. The first is the implicit claim that, prior to folks registering for the do-not-call list, the scammers had trouble getting access to these people’s phone numbers.

That might be true for the unlisted numbers, but I would think that you could buy every listed phone number in Canada for a few thousand dollars.

The second thing that feels wrong about this article is that relative to any other list of phone numbers you could find, the do-not-call registry must be the least profitable one imaginable. Why would a scammer want to call a list made up of people who have made it clear they do not want to be solicited over the phone?

(Hat tip: Gord Wait)

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COMMENTS: 50


  1. Mike M says:

    Some companies may recognize an opportunity. If no one else is calling, and the person answering does not expect a solicitor to be on the other end it may provide a window to deliver a pitch. Sometimes all a good salesperson needs is a small opening.

    My brother used to cold call business as a part of a B2B sales job, and he said he always had the most success getting an appointment with the businesses that had “no solicitation” on the door for that very reason. I don’t know how ethical/legal that is, but it worked.

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  2. Eric says:

    Many scammers do not “solicit” but will pretend to be from their credit card, bank, car dealership, …. most are not trying to do the simple sale. While I would presume that DNC phone numbers will be more aware of these issues it’s not a certainty, in fact some may even be biased to believe them since they “are on the DNC list”.

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  3. adora says:

    For your first thing: mobile phone numbers were never listed before. Some Canadians added their mobile phone numbers on the do-not-call list. So for the first time, the telemarketers can get hold of mobile phones.

    For the second thing: you have to ask telemarketers. I mean, even people who hadn’t register their numbers do not wish to get calls from them. Why would this industry even existed in the first place?

    I feel that it is like internet spam. They are doing more damage to others than profit to themselves.

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  4. Julie says:

    This Do Not Call list is a fiasco and very frustrating. I initially did not register my number, since it was a cell number and not listed anywhere. The only solicitations I got were from my own credit card company, who I had to give my phone number to.

    Then one day, I got a call from a telemarketer. At that point, I went and registered my number with the Do Not Call list. Now, the news is coming out that my number is being sold, and it makes me LIVID, because otherwise my number would not be accessible.

    So, there you go… It’s trusting people whose numbers wouldn’t otherwise be out there that the companies are getting.

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  5. Zach says:

    For the scammers to stay in business, their default assumption has to be that people don’t want to be called, but if you get through and have an offer that sounds good enough, they’ll buy anyway. If their business model is not based on that assumption, I can’t imagine how they are profitable.

    On first pass, the list might be treasured. If they are on the do-not-call list, and you have their number, you must be the only person calling them! What an opportunity. There is the small matter that the company who is selling the list has other customers. But then you are back to: people don’t want me to call, but if I can get a chance to present a great deal, they will buy.

    The do-not-call list is a list of phone numbers that are actually in use and people wanted to safeguard. You could buy a list of all listed numbers, and that list would include 40 phone numbers my company bought for future use but have not yet associated with a phone. You would get my summer cottage that only has a person there 8 weekends a year.

    Finally, I have to mention the scam that has been calling me four times a week. It’s probably using an automatic number generator to dial all combinations of numbers. It’s a recording that says, “You auto warranty is about to expire.” My auto warranty expired years ago, and I didn’t have my current phone number when I bought the car. It can’t be targeted marketing in any way shape or form. They are just taking money from anybody willing to shell it out without thinking. Their victims are people who think they are continuing an existing business relationship. Do-not-call lists specifically allow businesses to continue doing business. That list may be a list of people who have a false sense of security.

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  6. Chris L says:

    Primarily it is just a very reliable list of names linked to phone numbers. From what I hear, having this is incredibly valuable information to telemarketers.

    Also it includes cell phone numbers that are unlisted in Canada, but that people have registered for the list despite not really needing to in the first place.

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  7. Chris G says:

    I’m one of those who cannot relate in any way with any individual who would buy something because they got interrupted in their home to learn of a product they all of a sudden realized was just what was needed.

    Nonetheless, there must be more people out there that would do just that than I’m aware of, because I have to believe that if there weren’t an opportunity, companies wouldn’t do sales that way.

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  8. Derek says:

    The article notes that you can purchase a list of names covering all of Toronto for C$50. Realistically, how much would it cost someone to make automated calls to the names on this list? Even if they manage to successfully scam just a handful out of the 600,000 or so numbers they’ve purchased, I’d imagine they could cover their costs and then some, with no real threat of fine or imprisonment.

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  9. Laura says:

    Canadians (myself included) were encouraged to put not only home phone numbers but previously inaccessible cell phone number on the list (as a precaution.)

    I fell for it, and my mobile phone which had never been a target of telemarketers before now gets automated calls telling me that I’ve won a free cruise.

    I agree that it seems counterintuitive to target people who have expressly opted out of telemarketing, but isn’t telemarketing success is pretty rare anyways? I think that for spam e-mail the expectation is that somewhere around a couple of tenths of a percent will respond and buy; but people still do it because the overhead is so cheap. I assume this principle applies here too.

    It really is cruel to tease freezing Canadians with the promise of a free cruise in a warm destination. That should be punishable by international law.

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  10. Gregory L says:

    I’d imagine the telemarketing industry is much like that of email spam; there are scammers that buy lists from brokers.

    Brokers are not looking for customer demographics; they are paid for sheer volume of working, up-to-date phone numbers, and what list could be more pristine and accurate than a DNC list?

    (Disclosure: I’m signed up on this list and yes, I get the fake auto warranty call and the “you’ve won a free cruise” scam)

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  11. zadig says:

    Even more bizarre is the political campaign that calls without checking against (and eliminating) the Do Not Call registry. When asked, they’re quick to point out that the U.S. law exempts them from Do Not Call compliance. Sure, that’s true, but what kind of moron calls someone who has explicitly said “Never call me!” to say “Hey, sorry to interrupt you against your wishes, but, um, vote for me!”

    It seems even stupider to me than when telemarketers do it. I wish someone would publish a study on good call outcomes for regular calls vs. Do Not Call calls so that all of these idiots would go away.

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  12. gordwait says:

    It’s like the fake “click here if you do not want to receive any more email” that shows up in spam. It gives the spammers an up to date list of valid email addresses to use and or sell.
    Knowing that, I don’t know what I was thinking signing up for the telephone equivalent!
    It’s like a user comment on slashdot – sign up here for the “Do Not Burgle” list, make sure you indicate the hours that you are not home!

    Cheers,
    Gord Wait

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  13. Sridhar says:

    Even here in India, we have this National Do Not Call Registry. I think it would be more effective to have a can-call list where I don’t care who they sell the database to. Maybe they can even make some money in the process and reduce my tax :p

    What I don’t get is – why is a do-not-call list better than a can-call list ?

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  14. Tom says:

    As a direct marketing professional, I can tell you that whenever I read Direct Marketing Response Rate reports, year-in-year-out telemarketing is the most profitable DM channel. They wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work.

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  15. Mitch Trachtenberg says:

    Simple and inevitable solution: machines that route all calls to voice mail, unless the person at the other end can enter your privacy code or call from a whitelisted number.

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  16. Chris says:

    I would dispute your assertion that people on the do-not-call list would be the most unprofitable group of people to call.

    In my experience in sales, the people who put up the highest resistance at first, are often the ones who KNOW they are vulnerable to a good salesperson.

    My guess is that the DNC list has a disproportionate number of lonely elderly people, and people who have been ripped off before. AKA – the perfect customers.

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  17. J says:

    Perhaps there is some pitch the folks on the list are unusually vulnerable to.

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  18. $ says:

    just hang up

    NY’rs dont even say hello……

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  19. Brian says:

    My solution is simple: if I don’t recognize the number, I don’t answer. Most computerized calls won’t go into voicemail (at least from my experience). If it’s someone I know, I call them back!

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  20. Andrew says:

    They have the solution to this but want to make us pay extra as if privacy were some luxury:

    Call blocking. In my cell phone (I’ve abandoned land lines for there telemarketer abuses), I should be able to block at the local cellphone any list of numbers, locations, and identities I choose too. Just type in block ALL ‘unknown’ and type in each number I want into a blocked list.

    Besides that phones should be programmable to hide caller ID to every outgoing 800 number or to every number not in my contact list & so on…

    Why isn’t this available?

    The government needs to start serving citizens and not businesses as the current mess shows.

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  21. michael webster says:

    I concur with others who believe that you have missed the point – the people who put themselves on this list are signaling to the world that they fear that they are chumps.

    Anyone else can prevent being tempted by one of these con criminals.

    I predicted this outcome in August, 2007,

    http://www.bizop.ca/blog2/telemarketing-fraud/what-is-new-with-the-do-not-ca.html

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  22. BRUCE says:

    I just take the call and put the receiver down. Let them talk. I truly hate the political robocalls. These tie up your phone line.

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  23. Jon says:

    I expect some fraction of the “do-not-call” list consists of vulnerable elderly, who signed up for the list (or were signed up by their children/caretakers) precisely because they would otherwise be easy marks for cold-call scammers.

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  24. Richard Linck says:

    I have my own “do not receive calls” list. It’s called “I con’t answer”, using caller ID.

    - R2L

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  25. Ian says:

    Steven, your analysis seems a bit misinformed. As a web server systems administrator, I witness a daily barrage of electronic attacks originating overseas, beyond the reach of US law. The attackers launch their attacks from other people’s systems, which they have broken into and taken over.

    The economics of such attacks is simple: if the attackers are using other people’s resources to conduct their attacks, then they do not have to concern themselves with costs at all.

    Similarly, mass telephone “robocall” attacks can likely be conducted illicitly at a trivial cost to the attackers. If an attacker places a million robotic calls asking people to provide personal information, it might only take one or two takers for the whole scheme to turn a profit.

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  26. econobiker says:

    Echoing comment #12:

    The numbers, by virtue of being on the list, are now assured as being live numbers connected to a person. This saves scammers having to autodial through sequences of numbers.

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  27. Alexandra says:

    You are assuming, of course, that the only purpose anyone would by these lists for is to call the people on these lists.
    What about identity theft? Combined with other information, these lists can be valuable to some criminal people or organizations.

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  28. jason says:

    Maybe they are on the Do Not Call List because they know they lack the will to resist sales calls?

    This would have been my grandmother.

    Compulsive gamblers also avoid casinos.

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  29. John Fowler says:

    There are many elderly people who are lonely, whose mental faculties may be slipping, and who are only too happy to talk with telemarketers (it’s at least someone who is willing to talk with them). In many cases, the telemarketers engage in predatory and abusive practices designed to take advantage of these people. Family members of the elderly often place their parents’ numbers on the DNC list to protect them from these predatory practices.

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  30. ttj says:

    Steven, you argue based on a logical thought process. Telephone scammers and other scammers don’t really give a hoot about what is logical…they just try any angle they can.

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  31. Margaret says:

    As another direct marketer, I can tell you that mailing to “deceased” lists is also effective.

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  32. Al Maki says:

    As a Canadian, I would like to assure Steven that what the Globe and Mail wrote is supported experience. We have recently added one of our three phone numbers to the ‘do-not-call’ list and it has begun to receive a plethora of unsolicited calls. In order to lodge a complaint one must supply the name and phone number of the caller. When we asked the (heavily accented) callers for their phone numbers they hang up.
    Our other numbers aren’t receiving these calls. One of them is listed, the other isn’t. The timing of the deluge leads us to believe it is related to listing the number with the do-not-call list.
    If this doesn’t match the American experience, I suspect that these callers regard the Canadian legislation with contempt but have some fear of yours.

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  33. AMcA says:

    Ummm . . . for years, telemarketers called people knowing that a large portion would not want to hear from them. But it surely didn’t stop them. I don’t think being on the DNC list would be much of a deterrent now.

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  34. citrus says:

    we’re on a ‘do not call list’, not because we’re known chumps, but b/c of the irritation of that type of unwanted call

    question: when these scammers call, what kind of phone charges do they incur?

    if they incur charges for their scam calls, then perhaps a useful counter-tactic is to keep them on the phone as long as possible, without, of course, providing any info or purchasing anything….

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  35. Kirilius says:

    I think there was an earlier post in this blog asking for what signs of a recession the readers can see around them. The one that I see is the recent increase of the aggressive telemarketing attempts I get on all my phones (I live in Toronto).

    The most frequent call I am getting is an automatic message that says with a very serious and threatening tone: “This is a second warning that the factory warranty of your vehicle has expired!” Sure but… I don’t own a vehicle ;-)

    It is really annoying because I treat these calls (apart of being time wasters) as an insult to my intelligence. What is even more annoying is that these are not live people trying to sell you something but recorded messages! What kind of person would fall for a PRE-RECORDED sales pitch?

    That is another sign of the recession. Telemarketers and scammers (sorry telemarketers, to me both are equally annoying) cut their expenses by replacing live people in call centers with pre-recorded voice messages. Brrrrrrrr…. disgusting ;-)

    What is also interesting is that recently I started getting the same calls on my Blackberry, which was actually given to me by the client I currently work for, which is… a government agency! This makes me think that the calls are not made based on the do-not-call lists but by randomly trying sequence of digits.

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  36. Derick says:

    Maybe it’s valuable because people with psychological problems causing them to be incredibly naive and compulsive spenders are on the list at the advice of their mental health professional?

    Also: local reference! Woo!

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  37. Steve says:

    What is needed is a law that requires all calls to display their number for call display. Any numbers that don’t do this will be blocked.

    Then have a site that allows people on the do not call list to register the telephone numbers of any of these types who called with these “offers”. When 100 people register a complaint, the offending number will no longer be allowed access to the country.

    Then, eventually, an international agreement should be created to have local authorities to immediately arrest any of these scum who are closed down by 5 member nations. 5 years incarceration should soon put a stop to this.

    Another problem with the do not call list is that there are far too many loop holes. Telephone soliciting should end. If people want to be contacted by certain groups like charities or political parties, let them register for this by email.

    The elderly need to be protected from these people.

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  38. suth says:

    A quick note:

    The Globe and Mail is based in Toronto, but is a Canada-wide paper. The Toronto newspapers are the “Toronto Star” and the “Toronto Sun”.

    In fact, The Globe and Mail’s slogan/subtitle is “Canada’s National Newspaper”.

    Love the blog!

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  39. joanne mullen says:

    The best way to frustrate telemarketers, if you really want to as most of whom hate every second of their terrible jobs, is not to put the phone down immediately but to keep them talking for as long as possible. They expect 95% of calls to be fruitless and want to get through the duds as quickly as possible in order to find their mark. If you lead them on for twenty minutes without ever committing to buying anything you can end up annoying them as much as they do you and ensure they’ll never call you again.

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  40. griff says:

    ‘Silent calls’, where the telemarketing software does the calling but gets passing it to the human sales op wrong, are a particular nuisance in the UK.

    They frighten many people (‘why do I keep getting silent calls’) and are a major reason for going on the DNC list in the UK.

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  41. M.B. says:

    Saying yes to telemarketers or following a link from junk e-mail has the same effect as paying a ransom to a Somalian pirate.

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  42. janya says:

    The phone numbers on the “do not call list” might not be the best selected for cold calls, but the list is large, numbers are verified – and it does sell for “next to nothing”.

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  43. Shawker says:

    Steven,
    Though Toronto-based, the Globe and Mail is actually a national newspaper. I trust that this is merely an oversight on your part and not a deliberate attempt to reduce Canada to a single metropolitan area. Of course, your error is understanble given the unapologetically Toronto-centric nature of Canada’s national newsmedia.
    Regards from Winnipeg,

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  44. Howl says:

    What is this ‘direct marketing professional’ term? I have not heard of it.

    Oh, sorry. Down here those are called ‘douchebags.’

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  45. PVLB says:

    I have a friend who had spent a good part of two years on a telemarketing firm that sold lottery tickets (I didn’t even know that they sold lottery tickets this way at the time). This article reminded me of him since he was in Canada during that time.

    He wasn’t one for analysis but was very keen on the details of his rather stressful job. Many of the biggest purchasers of the lottery tickets were predominantly, but from far from exclusively, older customers who would recognize his voice and proceed to insult him and make very offensive and personal remarks about his character. At times, they would then plead with him and literally beg for him to leave them alone as if they were being held at gunpoint. At end they would almost always purchase multiple tickets without much cajoling on his part.

    At the time, I thought it was just a funny story but soon realized what that actually meant for marketers and the consumers who usually think of themselves as sophisticated and discerning customers.

    I’m no major in psychology or social anthropology but I have to say that the human element to cold calling (regardless of how much of it is a total farce) is a great advantage to everything from billboards to internet banner ads.

    In this case, I strongly believe the fact that there is so much anger (and sometimes remorse for past purchases) between the target of a cold call and the telemarketer that it cultivates a twisted kind of “relationship” which the “direct marketing professional” can exploit in order to sell more of the product. And no, I don’t think this is limited to consumers of limited or crippled mental capacity.

    At end, my friend sold consistently and had closed sales ten times the amount he did on the first month on the job. Unfortunately, despite the lucrative commission he earned, it was too “emotionally draining” at which point he left with the utter feeling of dread that he would “go straight to hell” as a result of this two year tenure. Which is to say A LOT since he had been a stern atheist ever since high school.

    I guess the lesson I could take from this is that it’s far easier to give of yourself (and your savings) when you can see a human face in front of you. It isn’t too much of a stretch to say that a familiar voice, no matter how despised, can garner a bit of sympathy as well.

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  46. David Ryeburn says:

    You ask “Why would a scammer want to call a list made up of people who have made it clear they do not want to be solicited over the phone?” Undoubtedly the people selling the lists to the scammers are aware of this. But the people buying the lists are probably too stupid to figure this out.

    I have received an increased number of marketing calls since registering my phone numbers on the Do Not Call list. The calling numbers can be blocked to prevent tracing, and the callers will not reveal their numbers if asked. Since compaints must include the offending calling number, complaining about violations becomes impossible. How do you avoid this problem in the USA? Or do you have as much trouble with it as we Canadians do?

    David

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  47. Derick says:

    Steve, what you’re suggesting is ludicrous and opposes the rule of law. You’re suggesting the final arbitor of whether someone is sent to prison be whether or not 500 people find him annoying. Scary thought.

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  48. Derick says:

    That is I meant Steve the recent commentor not the blogger.

    Lol, all of Canada is just Toronto.

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  49. Mike says:

    Place your phone by your radio and let them listen to music!

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  50. T-ra ra the fraud fighting tigger says:

    Contrary to the statement on the GOV DNC site saying, “No numbers on the Do Not Call Registry are being released to telemarketers and scammers. if you tell the gov you are going to solicit via phone and you want to be in complience with the DNC list, the telemarketer is required to download the Do Not Call list to remove the phone numbers from their list with. Once they download the list, an unscrupulous telemarketer will use the downloaded list to make calls since its all real and active numbers for mostly ppl who could fall for the scam. As they already fell for the first one, that is registering for a Do Not Call list thats is GIVEN to scammers, with zero enforcement.

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