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We've got your number: Telemarketers not playing by the rules 

A CHOICE survey shows that unwanted calls and texts have risen in lockdown, and that telemarketers are flouting the law.

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Last updated: 16 September 2021
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Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Need to know

  • More than half of Australians say they've received calls or texts from telemarketers in the past 12 months
  • About two thirds say unwanted calls and texts had increased compared with the previous 12 months
  • Telemarketers are required to follow certain guidelines – but they mostly ignore them 

New CHOICE research reveals that telemarketers harassing Australians with unwanted calls and texts during lockdown are ignoring their legal obligations. 

In a nationally representative survey of 1047 people conducted in June, more than half the respondents (56%) say they've received calls or texts in the past 12 months from telemarketers they haven't share their numbers with. 

About two thirds (64%) say unwanted calls and texts have increased compared with the previous 12 months. 

Flouting the law

Telemarketers are legally required to tell you their name, the name of the telemarketing company they work for and why they're calling at the start of the call. But our research suggests they rarely do, if ever. 

About a third (32%) of the people we surveyed asked where the caller got their number. But most telemarketers either declined to answer, said they didn't know, said they'd bought a list or database – or just hung up. 

'They never had a straight answer'

Other telemarketer responses were as far flung as "we bought the old Telstra records" or "we're not selling anything so the Do Not Call Register doesn't apply" or "you authorised us to use it" or "it was randomly allocated by a computer program". 

One survey taker says, "They never had a straight answer for me, just that they had my number on file, whatever that means. I said 'what file is that?' and they say their 'database file', Telstra'. I know it wasn't really Telstra.

They get really aggressive when you say you don't even know their company let alone signed up to receive calls

"They always say I signed up to receive offers, but never clarify exactly how," another respondent tells us. "And they get really aggressive when you say you don't even know their company, let alone signed up to receive calls. I usually just tell them this number is on the Do Not Call Register and hang up." 

Many of our survey takers say they are on the Do Not Call Register, but many telemarketers are apparently ignoring this. 

telemarketer_on_phone

Telemarketers are required to tell you their name, the name of the telemarketing company they work for and the business they represent – but very few do.

How'd you get my number? 

When telemarketers had the courtesy to respond to our survey takers' queries, they mostly said they got the number from a list. 

Yet many of our survey takers report that their numbers were on the do not call Register, meaning they should have been off limits to telemarketers (with the exception of charities, political parties, educational institutions, and government agencies).

Some of these cases might have been scam calls, since it can be hard to tell the difference. In any case, it is recommended that you never give out personal details to any unsolicited caller. 

There are no explicit rules that stop businesses from selling your contact details

Deputy ACCAN CEO Andrew Williams

Aside from the register, there are few protections. "There are no explicit rules that stop businesses from selling your contact details," says Andrew Williams, deputy CEO of the government-funded Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN). 

A spokesperson for the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) confirms this, saying "the sale and purchase of marketing lists are relatively common practices and are not prohibited under the Do Not Call Register Act or the Spam Act".

Williams adds, "That's why it's important to check the terms and conditions before you provide your personal contact details for any online forms."

Williams says the onus is on consumers to opt in or out of having our numbers passed along to telemarketers. 

"They may have a clause that says by ticking 'yes' you give them permission to use your details for marketing purposes, or to share your details with a third party," he says. 

"Sometimes the box is already checked, and you have to actively uncheck it or your details may be used to contact you or sold to third parties." 

The COVID-19 effect

Now that our daily interactions are mostly online due to COVID-19 restrictions, we're probably giving away our details more often, Williams believes. 

"Every time you buy something online, sign up to a newsletter or enter a competition, you're likely going to have to provide your phone number," he says, "This can then be used for telemarketing purposes." 

Now that our daily interactions are mostly online due to COVID-19 restrictions, we're probably giving away our details more often

Williams says there's an important distinction to make between telemarketers and scam callers. The former are regulated under the Telecommunications (Telemarketing and Research Calls) Industry Standard 2017, whereas the latter are, well, basically criminals. 

Scam callers should be reported to the government's Scamwatch service.

What legal rules should telemarketers follow?

  • Call only between 9am and 8pm on weekdays and 9am to 5pm on Saturdays. No calls are allowed on Sundays or public holidays. 
  • Tell you their name, the name of the telemarketing company they work for and the business it represents in the call, and why they're calling.
  • End the call at your request.
  • Give you the contact details of the telemarketing company at your request.
  • Give details of how to make a complaint against the caller, the telemarketing company or the business it represents at your request.
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