It’s The Captain calling…

Russell Wangersky
Published on September 24, 2011

It’s funny how the simplest of irritations can wind you up and make you do the stupidest things.

Getting caught behind a painfully-slow-moving driver on a narrow highway can get you pondering the most ridiculous — and dangerous — of passing solutions, scenarios where thumping the gas to the floor in the shortest of passing zones seems to make sense.

And then there’s The Captain.

Oh, I’d like a few minutes alone with The Captain.

An awful lot of people in this province — in this country — know The Captain real well.

You know him, because The Captain likes to phone your house — his phone calls start with the blare of a foghorn, followed by an automated voice intoning: “This is your Captain speaking …”

The Captain would like you to know that you’ve won a cruise. (Comments on the Internet suggest no one ever gets the cruise — even if you hang in on all the way to the end of the call, mysterious technical problems will disconnect you before the prize award.)

The script sounds like this: “Hello. This is your captain speaking. You will receive two free boarding passes for an all-inclusive cruise to Nassau, Bahamas in exchange for your answers to 10 questions. This is a public opinion poll. The process is automated. Just press the keys on your telephone keypad for your answers. You will receive two free boarding passes for an all-inclusive cruise to Nassau, Bahamas when you’re finished. This process only takes a minute. Press ‘1’ to start the automated survey and receive two complimentary cruise passes. Don't miss the boat. Press 1 now.”

Or, at least, that’s what it used to say — now, I hang up the moment I hear the foghorn. (That doesn’t always help — pick up the phone, and you’ll still hear The Captain nattering away to the empty air, unwilling to disconnect your line once his automated lips start moving.)

The Captain phones my house, my office and my cellphone. Not every day, but sometimes twice or three times in the same day.

The Captain phones from somewhere outside Canada, so I presume he simply laughs a little into the sleeve of his uniform when he hears about Canadian law and the Do Not Call Registry.

In fact, since he operates from another country, there’s a suggestion now that callers like The Captain are actually paying a fee and harvesting live telephone numbers directly from the federal Do Not Call list.

The Captain is a truly international pain in the arse.

Back-check his numbers: he might be in Pittsburgh — he might be in Florida — he might be in Port Arthur, Texas — his telephone number might be 00-000-000-0000. (Although that is one of the numbers a reverse lookup  on The Captain’s call will find you, I expect calling it would take you no further than a confused BellAliant operator.)

The Captain phones from as many as 21 separate phone numbers.


He has friends…

And The Captain is not alone. He has a friend — she likes to call and urgently say “This is Anne — hold for an important message.” Sometimes, she’s Becky. Sometimes, if you hold for the important message, you get to hear the foghorn, and The Captain, all over again.

There are suggestions he originates with an American automatic survey firm called the United Public Opinion Group — go to the website and the first thing it asks you to enter is, you guessed it, your phone number.

Do that, and another round of miraculous technical errors will hang up on you all over again, leaving your computer screen filled with a massive and detailed error number. After your experience on the phone, you figure you must have come to the right place. You can’t imagine how full their voicemailbox is.

Here’s what they say about themselves: “From helping create consumer survey questions that optimize maximum information that relates directly to your product or service, to running the actual

software applications, we are the nation’s largest automated survey company with the most experience to handle your opinion poll/survey needs.”

Go to the part about “How we collect information” and you can find a spectacular but meaningless piece of information: “United Public Opinion Group has gone into great lengths to make sure that the methodology and the questionnaire to be used have been thoroughly upogutinized and are the most appropriate for your particular needs.”

Does being “thoroughly upogutinized” mean being called over and over?

It’s not clear. In fact, it’s not even clear if The Captain really does live at United Public Opinion. Any place you would ask that question on the website requires you to enter your telephone number — I hardly want to give that to anyone who could be connected to The Captain, even though he clearly already has it. The help desk button doesn’t work. There’s no information anywhere on the site that indicates a geographic location for the company.

I realize that, in all likelihood, The Captain exists only in the ether of computerized telemarketing.

But I’d really like to shove the foghorn in a place where I don’t think The Captain would appreciate it.

And if I could buy some kind of  telephone app that would track him down and let me force both The Captain and Anne (or Becky) to walk the plank into a pool of Bahamian sharks, I’d get it in a heartbeat.

I’d like to charge The Captain a quarter every time he calls — and I’d like to charge the phone companies a quarter, too, for allowing The Captain and his real, live bosses to abuse a service I’m paying them for.

Captain? This is Russell speaking. Goodbye.


Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at