Telemarketers still a nuisance despite Do Not Call Register

Penalties as high as $1.1 million

Shadow Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Bruce Billson is urging telemarketing and research groups to desist from making nuisance calls to Australians registered on the Do Not Call Register.

The $17 million Do Not Call Registry has attracted nearly two million registrations since its implementation and was launched in response to public frustration about an increasing number of unwanted telemarketing calls.

While the majority of marketing companies appear to be making genuine efforts to comply with their obligations under the Do Not Call Register Act 2006, Billson said in recent weeks his office has received a number of public complaints about unsolicited calls.

The calls often involve salespeople calling on behalf of large corporations and misusing the 'inferred consent' exemption with established customers, while others are individuals claiming to be exempt because they are conducting social research.

"I have also received complaints from people with silent numbers, who are registered on the Do Not Call Register, but who continue to be pestered by annoying, unsolicited calls," Billson said.

"The use of random number generation systems means that silent numbers are not immune from harassment. I've heard of at least one major banking corporation that uses telemarketers to call its loan holders repeatedly to get them to take out unwanted mortgage insurance."

While there are some public interest related exemptions, it is generally illegal for telemarketers to make unsolicited calls to numbers, including fixed lines and mobiles which are on the Do Not Call Register.

Penalties for breaches under the Do Not Call Register Act range from $220 to $110,000. Penalties for certain cases that go before the court can be up to $1.1 million.

Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, said The Do Not Call Register is set for review in 2009 although it has proven effective with more than 250 organizations receiving warning letters from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) in the second half of 2007.

ACMA chairman Chris Chapman said more than 250 complaints, relating to breaches of the Act, have been filed since the Do Not Call Register went live on May 31, 2007.

Consumers have become increasingly vocal about intrustions from telemarketers and Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

For example, Internet services led a 16.9 per cent increase in complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman in the 2007 financial year.

Ombudsman Deirdre O'Donnell said customers who had issues with their Internet service now make up almost a third of the complaint load.

Complaints to the Ombudsman increased by 16.9 per cent over the previous year to 102,463, with the fastest rate of increase from Internet services, followed by mobile and landline services.

"Complaints about billing and payments, including direct debits and capped and bundled phone plans, were a source of concern for all consumers," O'Donnell said.

"Customer service was a particular issue for Internet service consumers."

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