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Consumer Ombudsman: Consumers need right to refuse telemarketing calls

The Competition and Consumer Authority wants Finland to adopt an opt-in model in relation to telemarketing calls.

Telemarketers working for operator Elisa allegedly used false information to sell broadband internet subscriptions. Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle

Telemarketing should only be directed at consumers who give their permission to be contacted, according to the Competition and Consumer Authority KKV.

Consumer Ombudsman Katri Väänänen said that abuses by teleoperator Elisa’s mobile broadband telemarketers suggest that there should be tighter restrictions on telemarketing.

On Saturday, tabloid daily Ilta-Sanomat reported that some telemarketers working for Elisa subsidiary Enia had been misleading prospective customers in order to sell broadband internet subscriptions. The salespersons called customers and claimed that other residents in their housing association had complained about slow internet connections.

However in reality there were no complaints. However the misinformation led some customers to purchase faster but more expensive internet connections. According to Ilta-Sanomat, use of the shady sales pitch continued for one year.

"It sounds quite excessive. It is unfortunate that such a big player would be involved in something like this although the rules are quite clear," Väänänen said.

EU directive in the works

The authority has tried for many years to limit the activities of telemarketers. It has proposed a model by which customers would have to separately opt-in to receive sales calls. This would prevent salespersons from calling customers who don’t want to be contacted.

All the same the dubious tactics used to sell Elisa’s broadband services may have also been used on customers who wished to receive marketing calls.

"We believe that the consumer should have freedom of choice. The telemarketing sector has many problems such as misleading advertising and subscription traps. Surveys also show that a large number of consumers have a negative view of telemarketing," Väänänen pointed out.

According to the KKV, Finland should adopt the opt-in model when the EU’s new electronic marketing data privacy directive, ePrivacy, comes into force.

Elisa: Unfortunate but no need for more regulation

Elisa service director Jukka Lehto said that over the past weekend the firm has received some additional customer feedback about its broadband telesales. It plans to continue to look into how subscriptions are really sold and why the misleading marketing has continued for so long.

"We usually review most of our sales calls. In this case the calls were not sufficiently vetted. We will analyse the calls early next week and change our practices," Lehto added.

However the company said that it saw no reason for tighter rules to govern telemarketing. Lehto said that the current system works, although Elisa’s quality control failed in this instance.

"This is an unfortunate case and we will review it, but it was limited to one campaign. I wouldn’t go so far as to conclude that the field should be more tightly regulated," he declared.

More rights for customers

According to the KKV, there have not been as many complaints relating to telesales of broadband subscriptions as there have been for other services such as electricity.

As a result of a flood of complaints some years ago, companies were restricted to placing sales calls only to existing customers, a measure that was supported by teleoperators. It also led to better practices in the field.

However the KKV’s Väänänen noted that currently, the law does not provide for consumers to receive direct compensation in cases where marketing has been based on false information. However this will change when EU consumer protection reforms take effect in the next few years.