Note: Optima Wealth Solutions is a property investment firm http://www.owealth.com.au which shares a phone number with Optima Lending Solutions and Optima Homes. It is not related to Optima Group, Optima Lending or Optima Wealth Management who do not use telemarketers.
Why do we still get telemarketing calls when we’re listed on “Do-Not-Call” Register (DNCR) – and is the regulator, Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), doing enough to stop it?
Infotronics and Lead Generation
An overseas-based call centre, Infotronics, has been breaching the DNCR laws for years, calling people who are listed on the DNCR. Infotronics makes “lead generation” calls – meaning that it sells the personal details of consumers (obtained during the telemarketing calls) on to property investment businesses in Australia.
Infotronics identifies itself by different names, including ‘IMS’ and ‘Payless Solutions’. It doesn’t identify the name of the Australian business that might be the end-user of the information.
ACMA confirm that Infotronics appears “to make cold calls asking questions about the consumer’s personal, lifestyle and financial circumstances. Consumers often receive a further call advising that they have ‘qualified’ for a financial service and offer to forward their details to an Australian-based company for a follow up call or appointment.
I complained about ‘Infotronics’ in September 2013, and ACMA said it “..understands that Infotronics is taking significant steps to improve its compliance with the DNC legislation.”
When I complained about Infotronics again more than 2 years later, ACMA advised that “Infotronics is currently at the ‘warn’ stage of the ACMA’s DNC Register Complaint handling policy.
One might wonder how it takes more than 2 years for a problematic call centre to reach the “warn” stage, and how many thousands of calls will be made before it’s time for further action. To be fair, it can be difficult for ACMA to enforce our laws against overseas call centres (even though our laws apply if they call Australians). So surely ACMA should be taking action against the Australian property investment businesses, that for years, have benefited from the illegal conduct of ‘Infotronics’.
WIT Group, Optima Wealth Solutions, Accrue Property
So far, it appears that ACMA has not taken action against any of these Australian businesses. It can be difficult to identify the Australian businesses, because this may not be clear to the consumer unless the contact proceeds to a home visit – but ACMA do have some names.
Two of those Australian companies are WIT Group and Optima Wealth Solutions. I understand that that Accrue Property has also been reported to ACMA. There are likely to be others. WIT Group appears (based on web comments) to have continued to use leads from Infotronics despite its sales staff being informed of the problems.
One challenge ACMA may face with these calls, is that the DNCR legislation may be inadequate to deal with “lead generation” calls, where calls aren’t being made by the end business or its contractor, but where leads are purchased after the calls are made. The law doesn’t specifically outlaw the purchase of consumer details that were obtained via a DNCR breach. If this creates an enforcement problem for ACMA, one would hope ACMA has raised this with Government and sought amendment to the legislation to clarify that this is a legal breach.
If ACMA believes it can take action against these Australian businesses, it should have done so years ago, but it appears to rely very heavily on educating businesses and giving warnings. Education is fine for businesses that want to comply with the law but does little for businesses that are knowingly in breach.
If property investment businesses are selling more properties as a result of this conduct, it’s unlikely they will stop unless there is a significant risk of prosecution by the regulator.
(update 17/5/16) On 24/4/16 I received a similar cold-call, apparently from overseas, but this time the name given was “Victorian Mortgage Consultants”. They offered to find me a cheaper mortgage. I agreed to a visit a few days later. Two hours before the scheduled time I answered a call. It was “Steve, from Wealth Gategroup” confirming the appointment. According to its website, Wealthgate Group provides property investment and mortgage finance. Steve said he was shocked that the telemarketers they were using breached the Do Not Call laws. I asked the name of their marketers – he said “Winners Marketing Group”. I cancelled the appointment and lodged another complaint with ACMA.
ACMA’s Enforcement Approach
ACMA says it takes a “stepped” approach to compliance and enforcement. This approach appears to deal with every breach in the same way, first trying education, then if that doesn’t work a warning, and then finally moving towards more serious action.
However, the “enforcement pyramid” approach by most regulators recognises that the regulator doesn’t always adopt the low level response first. If a complaint is serious, conduct is persistent, or monitoring compliance is likely to be difficult, regulatory action should start at a higher level.
It is much harder to identify the names of Australian businesses using lead generation businesses that breach the DNCR, so for example one complaint against WIT Group could be the equivalent of 100 complaints against a business that does its own telemarketing. Those using lead generation therefore have a lower risk of being ‘found-out’ – so when they are, they should face harsh penalties.
Questions remain about what proportion of complaints to ACMA relate to “lead generation” calls – I suspect it is significant – and whether ACMA believe it has the power, or the nerve, to take action against local businesses who benefit from these calls.
The message from the regulator right now to Australian businesses is that if you profit from leads obtained by an overseas call centre, you’re probably pretty safe from prosecution. The worst you may have to fear is being ‘hit’ with an education campaign – unless ACMA is prepared to revisit its enforcement policy and make an example to others by launching a prosecution against the businesses that profit from this illegal activity.