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Canadians Should Ask "Who's Really Calling?"

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 22 August 2000 00:00

As the Canadian National Exhibition opens in Toronto and across the country similar fairs swing into action, Canadians must be on the alert for fraud. Whether it's the Pacific National Exhibition, a fall fair or a home show, when exhibitors offer prizes, promote contests and encourage you to "fill out this form to get...", some of your personal information may end up in the wrong hands - those of fraudulent telemarketers.

"When you know someone, you recognize their voice. Otherwise you do not know who is calling even if I give you a name," says Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Detective Staff Sergeant Barry Elliott of PhoneBusters , the Canadian national deceptive telemarketing call centre, which is operated by the OPP.

Elliott feels consumers hold the key to breaking the fraud cycle. Although a recent study on privacy states 80% of Canadians believe their personal information should be kept completely confidential, Elliott emphasizes that people are still too lax in protecting their own personal information.

PhoneBusters regularly receives calls on its national toll free line 1-888-495-8501 and emails at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. from consumers who have freely given their credit card number or personal information on a contest ballot or over the telephone and are now victims of fraud, which may cost them thousands. Experts feel some are too embarrassed to speak up. Through efforts like PhoneBusters, telemarketing fraud has been reduced by an estimated 72% nationally, but the goal is 100% elimination of fraudulent telemarketing.

After a major consumer show where contest and prize ballots are available, Elliott reports PhoneBusters receives calls from people who have been offered prizes if they spend money first. Consumers are told they have been specially selected to win a prize, or have been awarded one of three or two of five prizes, which usually include cash or a vehicle. They must purchase a product and pay in advance to receive their prize. These products may include "coin collections", personalized pen sets, etc. that are generally cheap or overpriced, but may sound valuable over the phone. In the eagerness to win a prize, many otherwise savvy consumers have been taken in.

The Better Business Bureau offers these tips for dealing with telemarketers in general:

  • Hang up if you're asked to pay for a prize. Free is free.

  • Don't send money - cash, cheque or money order - by courier, overnight or wire to anyone who insists on immediate payment. Don't give the telemarketer your credit card number either.

  • If you don't want the seller to call you back, say so. If they call back, hang up. Legitimate business do not force themselves on you.

  • Take your time. Ask for written information about the product, service, investment opportunity or charity that is the subject of the call.

  • Hang up if a telemarketer calls you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.

    Frustration with fraudulent telemarketers has given PhoneBuster's Barry Elliot a more hard line approach to misuse of consumer information: "There should be a line or a circuit on your phone that when you push the button - if they're lying - they're instantly electrocuted."

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