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February 5, 2009

88% of all telemarketing calls are scams

CANADA - According to a new CBC report 88% of all telemarketing calls are scams.

In Canada it is a billion dollar industry and involves organized crime, pyramid schemes, identity theft, credit card fraud and a myriad other illegal activities.

Yet because telemarketers operate as legal businesses many Canadians are easily duped into giving their credit card and personal information over the phone. People assume that because the company has employees, that they speak fluent English and are friendly on the phone that they must be legitimate.

But not so says the RCMP. Ask more questions and you'll determine its a scam.

That's the advice RCMP in New Brunswick are giving out when it comes to dealing with an ever-increasing number of scams and frauds.

Sgt. Claude Tremblay says Canadians need to be more inquisitive. "I don't know why people don't ask more questions," Tremblay said. "The old adage we have is that if it sounds too good, it's probably not true."

In November, RCMP in Nova Scotia also issued a warning involving phone hijacking.

Several people received a call from someone identifying himself or herself as a police officer telling them about a relative who had been in a car accident. The caller tells the recipient to hit *72 for more information.

Tremblay said such calls are rerouted to a server and the scam artists is able to use that number to place calls worldwide.

Some people have been hit with bills as high as $6,000 per month and have never made a phone call outside the province, he said.

In Alberta the problem has reached an extreme and the province has made a program called the Wise Owls Fraud Prevention Program. The program, supported by the RCMP and the Alberta Rural Crime Watch Association, encourages seniors to recognize, report and stop fraudulent crimes including telemarketing scams, Internet and email fraud, credit card and debit card scams and identity theft. Each year in Alberta, over 6,000 seniors become victims of fraud and quite a few lose their life's savings and end up on welfare.

Phone Busters, the Canadian anti-fraud call centre, lists more than 20 scams making the rounds. They range from 900-numbers to those involving vehicle warranties to unsolicited vacation opportunities.

From Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2008, Phone Busters reported 5,827 cases of mass-marketing fraud, totaling more than $23 million in lost money.

But there is a lot more out there. Most people have never heard of Phone Busters or report that they've been ripped off. The RCMP estimate telemarketing scams stole $4.6 billion from Canadians in 2008 alone, and the industry is getting worse every year.

Julia Forte, who speaks for the U.S.-based website 800notes.com, said her operation can help identify where these calls are coming from.

The website collects phone numbers used by telemarketers, con artists, collection agencies and other businesses that call from unknown numbers. Users share what they know about the callers, including opt-out phone numbers, business addresses, and other information - all of which are designed to identify the number owner and stop the calls.

"The site has proven itself to be a valuable tool in the fight against junk calls, illegal telemarketing and phone scams," Forte says. She says people have the right to know who's trying to scam them.

"We don't pursue the offenders; we don't have that ability," Forte said. "What we can do is provide a way for people to exchange information fast so more people are aware and more careful on the phone."

So why doesn't our government just ban telemarketing outright? Just make telemarketing illegal. Its because the telemarketing industry has grown so large, and corrupt, that it now has significant power and can make outrageous claims like "shutting down the telemarketing industry will hurt the Canadian economy".

Wrong. It will only hurt the economy of people operating outside of the law. Legitimate polling companies and charities will continue to exist, but illegal telemarketing scams needs to be stamped out.

Our government just isn't taking the issue seriously because they think its just an annoying fact of modern life. They haven't clued in that there is a very illegal element to the vast majority of telemarketing calls.

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