Fighting Back Against Phone Scams
Protect Yourself Against Phone Scams
Have you received a scam call (or two, or three) today? Most of us are familiar with these annoying calls, which try to fool us with a variety of ruses and threats.
For the past several years, scammers posing as the Canada Revenue Agency, collection agencies, police, courts, banks, cybersecurity experts and other sources have attempted to intimidate and harass individuals and businesses into giving them money. They may claim, for example, that the target owes “back taxes” and will face fines or jail time if they don’t pay immediately. To make matters worse, scammers often target vulnerable people, including newcomers and seniors.
Public awareness of phone and other scams is rising, but fraudsters are also becoming more sophisticated. The RCMP recently issued a warning about a Bitcoin-related scam, for instance, and many scammers are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic. Between March 6, 2020, and January 31, 2021, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre received over 11,500 reports of COVID-19 fraud, and a total of 9,797 people lost $7 million. Examples of pandemic scams include counterfeit vaccines, unapproved drugs, miracle cures, malicious apps, unauthorized tests, fake fundraisers, and fake or deceptive ads for in-demand products such as hand sanitizer.
Fraudsters can be highly convincing. Most of us like to think we wouldn’t fall for a scam, but no one is immune. In 2020, for all types of fraud, over 40,000 Canadians lost a total of $106.4 million. The true losses are likely much higher, since the majority of fraud incidents are never reported. Becoming better informed about phone scams and other types of fraud is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones. Here’s what you need to know.
In December 2019, Canadian telecom providers implemented systems to block suspicious, unsolicited phone calls, such as those from numbers over 15 digits long, and numbers that can’t be called (for example, 000-000-0000). This is a positive step, but no tech intervention can prevent all phone scams, including “spoofed” numbers. For this type of ruse, scammers disguise their identity by displaying the phone numbers of real organizations (such as government departments) on your caller ID. Another common trick is to use a fake number whose first six digits resemble those of your number, to make you think it’s a local call (scammers typically perpetrate their schemes from overseas).
Here are some steps you can take to fight back against scammers, as well as telemarketers who don’t follow the rules:
- Become familiar with common scams. You’ll find an extensive list of scams and tactics on the website of the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre, which is operated by the RCMP, Ontario Provincial Police and the Competition Bureau. The centre also offers tips to protect yourself. The Government of Canada is another good source for information about avoiding scams and fraud.
- If you suspect that a call is a scam, hang up. Never provide personal or financial information, even if the caller mentions details that only a legitimate organization should know, such as your address or the name of your bank.
- Understand what information a legitimate organization would ask for. For example, many scammers pose as the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). In response, the CRA has created a guide to help you identify fake calls. If you’re not certain a call is legitimate, get off the phone, find the organization’s official phone number and contact them yourself.
- Register your phone number(s) on the National Do Not Call List to reduce the number of telemarketing calls you receive. (Certain types of callers will still be permitted to call, including registered charities, newspapers selling subscriptions, organizations conducting market research, and political parties.)
- File complaints about telemarketers that you think have used a spoofed number or are otherwise violating the rules.
- Protect your digital accounts and devices by choosing unique, complex passwords (at least eight characters, with a mix of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols) or a passphrase (random combination of four or more words). Never give your passwords to anyone. Change any password that may have been compromised.
- Pay attention to media stories about scams. Fraudsters continually come up with new methods to fool people, including sophisticated tech tricks.
If you think you’ve been scammed, report it to the police or the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. Reporting fraud helps the authorities understand what’s happening. You may feel embarrassed, but remember that you’re not alone.