Seniors fall prey to telecom sales tactics

“He who hesitates is lost…” maybe the old adage that points to ‘Success being achievable only by swift action” but in older age, hesitation may be the best course of action.
Don’t rush into decisions, particularly if money is involved. Better to slow down, give it second thought, get help with added information and do some re-consideration and then make your decision.

Seniors fall prey to telecom sales tactics
Toronto Star, Aug. 25, 2018

Federal Minister Navdeep Bans recently asked the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to launch a public inquiry into the misleading and aggressive selling practices of telecom service providers. The inquiry involves a consultation process, which invites Canadians to share their stories by Thursday.

This inquiry hits close to home for many Canadians. Many of us have been overcharged for or have waited on hold for many hours, only to be transferred to someone else. While these frustrations are far too common, our research shows telecom companies’ use of predatory sales practices impact seniors in particular ways. In interviews we have done, we learned that seniors have been sold expensive services and devices that are unsuitable for their needs. For example, an 86-year-old man wanted a landline installed in his home, but was told that this technology is now obsolete. Instead, he was sold a smartphone he did not know how to operate.

Other seniors have pointed out that attractive offers promised at the time of a sale never materialized, or disappeared after a few months, leaving them with expensive bills. Seniors complained about high-pressure sales techniques that left them feeling intimidated, either on the phone, in public places or even in their homes.

A few seniors even told us that they feel that they have been targeted by sales representatives because of their age. In many cases, seniors have had to rely on children, grandchildren or community groups and social workers to step in and intervene.

Seniors are an easier ‘mark’
Seniors can be more susceptible to these sales practices than younger people, who tend to be more digitally savvy and therefore better able to recognize offers that are “too good to be true.” Consumers who are proficient in digital technologies can also more easily choose services that truly meet their communication needs.

In Canada, the digital divide between generations is narrowing. But this doesn’t mean all seniors understand and access communication technologies in the same way. In fact, digital literacy among seniors is related to levels of literacy, education and income. Older people, especially those living in precarious financial situations, are most in need of affordable telecom service, which in some cases help to mitigate isolation. While many seniors are sceptical about telecom companies’ approaches, others believe that there is (or should be) mutual loyalty between the customer and the provider.

In some cases, seniors have been clients of the company for decades. Older people were customers during a time when prices for certain communication services were federally regulated. They believe that the packages offered by their telecom provider is of fair value and they do not always know that the price can be negotiated. The most vulnerable among us are disadvantaged by a system that allows private companies to confuse and bully customers in the name of profit. The burden of detecting the scams and abuses should not rest with the consumer or with their families, and the CRTC can intervene.

Participate in the CRTC inquiry
The CRTC has launched its investigation and the large telecom companies will make themselves heard They will defend themselves and seek to legitimize a wide margin for their out-of-bounds sales practices. Canadians must participate in the inquiry and they have until Thursday to do so. Visit the CRTC website to voice your opinion (

Dr. Kim Sawchuk, director
Ageing + Communication + Technologies (ACT)
Constance Lafontaine, associate director
Ageing + Communication + Technologies (ACT)
Kendra Besanger, knowledge mobilization officer
Ageing + Communication + Technologies (ACT)

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