Listing your name on Canada's new do-not-call registry could actually increase the likelihood that you will be targeted by unscrupulous telemarketers.
The Consumers' Association of Canada says it has been inundated with complaints from people who have been called by scam artists after placing their telephone numbers on the registry, which went into effect last September.
The do-not-call list was created to prevent telemarketers from contacting people who do not want to be pestered with uninvited sales pitches. For companies to find out who they are not permitted to call, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission sells the list online for a fee.
"You can buy any list you want of people who subscribe to the do-not-call registry online. The whole of Toronto costs you 50 bucks for 600,000 names," Bruce Cran, president of the CAC, said in a telephone interview yesterday.
"That's just perfect for any telemarketer, because these are good names which they would otherwise have to pay money for to verify. In addition to that, there's no index list of cell phone numbers that you can get. However, people were encouraged to put their cell phone numbers on there as well."
Penalties for misuse of the registry run as high as $15,000 for a corporation, or $1,500 for an individual. But it's difficult to fine fraudsters who are based overseas - or those in Canada running a fly-by-night business.
Glenn Thibault, the NDP critic for consumer affairs, wrote federal Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart this week to ask if making the phone numbers on the registry available online is a violation of privacy laws.
Ms. Stoddart was already on the case.
"We have received a copy of [Mr. Thibault's]letter and we are just gathering information at this stage," said her spokeswoman, Valerie Lawton. "But we were aware of this issue before and we have discussed it with the CRTC. We have been in contact with them and understand that they are looking at it. They are taking it seriously."
Denis Carmel, a spokesman for the CRTC, said the commission is investigating the issue. "I cannot give you time lines. I cannot give you any other assurance. But we are aware of the situation and we are trying to assess how to respond," Mr. Carmel said.
He pointed out that if a foreign telemarketer abuses the registry to sell a product in Canada, the Canadian distributor of that product would be held accountable.
But if you are a Caribbean telemarketer selling fake Caribbean cruises, "that's another story," conceded Mr. Carmel.
"In that case we would issue a fine and we'll see how that goes."
Mr. Thibault said he has received numerous calls from people who believe they have been called by telemarketers who obtained their phone numbers from the do-not-call registry.
"We've all heard these stories where someone gets taken advantage of," said Mr. Thibault. "And if this does happen because we've forgotten to cross an 'i' or dot a 't,' then, shame on us. We're putting this in place to help, not to make it worse."
Mr. Cran said his organization has opposed the registry from the outset. But even the CAC did not contemplate the possibility that telemarketing hucksters would buy and use registry data.
"We're getting complaints because people didn't understand what they were getting into and gave out their phone numbers," he said. "They are now in the hands of all sorts of pirates that they never knew existed."