Can people be made to pay for nuisance calls to their mobile phone?

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption British mobile phone users will not be refunded after the CRTC ruled rules are too vague

It comes at a time when numbers of nuisance calls have risen sharply.

So what does the CRTC’s ruling about crooks and telemarketers mean for consumers and companies?

The CRTC said it would make it tougher for people to take action, and tougher still for anyone who was misled.

However, this does not mean people can ignore these calls – the call is still illegal and can be reported.

Why such penalties are bad news for consumers

The CRTC’s tough new rules come into effect in March – with fines for unregistered telemarketers starting at up to $22,300 Canadian ($19,600).

And, for the first time, the CRTC will establish a total Canadian number of new Canadian phone numbers that must be used by telemarketers in Canada.

But while the fines and new rules will be tough, it may be difficult for unscrupulous telemarketers to continue making calls when it is cheaper to make a call via pre-recorded messages or with spam “spoofing”.

Image copyright The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Image caption But a consumer cannot sue for what they call “unduly burdensome” duties

So unless they want to give up their telemarketing business entirely, can consumers hold telemarketers liable for the cost of using Canada’s new national number system?

“It depends on how they use the rule. If you’re just saying that you need to use the number to reach a customer, it’s moot. But there is a certain limit as to what the CRTC will permit in terms of customer call centres that are solely telemarketing call centres,” said Derrick Stewart, a professor of telecommunications at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

A tool exists that companies can use to collect information from consumers when they call, such as to determine what product they want and to understand what prices they pay.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Can consumers still sue for “unduly burdensome” duties?

“So if a person is being harassed and they don’t want to answer it, and they just have one option – whether it’s pre-recorded service – then the other option is to stop.”

But the limitation on limiting calls to just customer-to-customer means consumer groups who accuse telemarketers of abusing their authority to make nuisance calls are likely to remain frustrated.

For some, especially those who have suffered through phone mis-sells, relief has come in the form of a refund – as the CRTC has ruled that rules are too vague.

A key issue for consumers is that, on the face of it, the CRTC has said it is doing all it can to prevent telemarketers from telemarketing.

But, as Prof Stewart notes, fines and new rules to improve regulation and protection of consumers are effective only if companies abide by them.

“You can’t collect a fine from a company that breaks the law because a company is working within the bounds of the law, if the law is not enforced.”

The telephone industry has been considering automated or robocalling-free phone numbers for years as a way to reduce nuisance calls.

But those new numbers are only being regulated for Canada, so telemarketers do not have to use these in other countries.

The CRTC has proposed a number of new international rules to keep service providers in check, including notifying them of calls on an annual basis, and having the right to block unwanted calls.

What some consumer groups are saying

Kathryn Hynes, executive director of Telemarketing Students Alliance: “The impact of the CRTC ruling is to create barriers for Canadians to report telemarketing complaints, potentially discouraging Canadians from reporting these kind of frauds to regulators or to law enforcement.

“Companies will continue to tell consumers they cannot prosecute telemarketers if they did not take full advantage of these new rules.”

The CRTC said it “deeply regrets that for reasons of commercial sensitivity, we were not given an opportunity to comment on the final decision”.

In a statement, the CRTC said its final findings were reached after lengthy consultations with consumer groups, who “expressed concern” about the clarity of the new regulations and whether companies would continue to have an incentive to scammers to break the rules.

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