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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  1. 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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  2. 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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  3. 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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  4. 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!

    Gord Wait

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  5. 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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  6. 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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  7. 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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  8. 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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