Contact: John Lawford, PIAC
(613) 562-4002×25
MONTREAL and Ottawa, July 7, 2004: Three major consumer groups today filed an application demanding the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) take action to stem the tide of “modem hijackings”, an internet scam costing consumers thousands of dollars in overseas long-distance charges and billable 900/976 calls.
Option consommateurs, l’Union des consommateurs and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) are raising the alarm. The problem of “dialler” programs has reached epidemic proportions in Canada this spring and regulators can no longer bury their heads in the sand.
The consumer groups are demanding that the CRTC, the phone companies and Internet experts sit down at the table and find a real solution to this costly problem as soon as possible.
“Diallers” are computer programs that surreptitiously self-install when consumers visit certain websites or receive certain e-mail attachments. Once installed, these programs “hijack” the modem by redirecting the user’s Internet dial-up connection via grossly expensive overseas calls or through 900 or 976 numbers.
Thus in recent months, several thousand Canadian consumers have, to their surprise and horror, received phone bills for calls to such far-flung destinations as Sao Tome, Nauru, Guyana or Guinea-Bissau. Calls they have not knowingly made – and some bills for more than $2000!
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In today’s press conference, the consumer groups will underline that solutions such as blocking or filtering outgoing calls already exist and that the phone companies have an obligation to assist customers now in avoiding these charges.
The consumer groups will also demand that the phone companies agree to cancel overseas telephone charges for these “wrong numbers”, as they do already with unrecognised 900 or 976 calls.
“Quite apart from the question of ultimate legal responsibility, it remains a fact that neither the consumer, nor the phone company, feel responsible for these charges,” noted Jannick Desforges of Option consommateurs. “Considering that the phone companies may no longer cut off local phone service simply due to unpaid long-distance charges, we find ourselves in an absurd situation where the phone companies must sue their customers in court for these charges or sell them to a debt-collection agency. Is that any way to treat your customers?”
“This problem has been known for at least two years” adds Charles Tanguay of l’Union des consommateurs. “The phone companies are guilty of neglecting to address a scam they know about. Who are these people in Sao Tome or Nauru that Bell and the other phone companies are collecting phone charges for?”
The consumer groups will remind victims that the CRTC has already ruled that they are entitled to have 900 and 976 call charges removed when these numbers appear on a phone bill for the first time. They will demand that the same policy be extended to long-distance charges resulting from modem hijacking.
The consumer groups will also remind customers that, due to another recent CRTC decision, the phone companies can no longer cut off local phone service, nor threaten to do so, as long as customers continue to pay the local service charges portion of their phone bill.
Finally, both PIAC and l’Union des consommateurs have posted public information pages on how to avoid modem hijacking and how to remove this nefarious software:
L’Union des consommateurs modem hijacking information page: (in French)
For more information: Charles Tanguay, Communications Officer
Union des consommateurs (514) 521-6820
Jannick Desforges, Counsel
Option Consommateurs (514) 598-7288
John Lawford, Barrister & Solicitor, Research Analyst
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (613) 562-4002×25
See our webpage on how to avoid modem hijacking[pdf file: 0.13mb]