'Hang up': RCMP intelligence officer weighs in on scam calls frustrating Canadians
TORONTO – Canadians across the country have expressed their frustration with the influx of scam and robocalls purporting to be from such federal organizations as the Canadian Revenue Agency and RCMP across the country.
For many Canadians, these calls involve a robotic voice informing the listener that they are in imminent danger of arrest or a lawsuit, before proceeding to ask for personal information. Many Canadians report receiving multiple calls a day.
“Actually on Tuesday I got around six calls from four different numbers with the same message ‘your SIN is compromised and legal action has started’ blocked each of them, since then no more” one Twitter user wrote Thursday.
Another Twitter user said they had received several calls a day “for the past 6 weeks.”
A spokesperson for the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) confirmed to CTVNews.ca in an email Thursday that these calls are “one of the top reported scams” that they deal with.
In 2019, so far the CAFC said they had received 2,639 reports about scam calls related to the Canadian Revenue Agency.
“They are international in scope,” the CAFC said, which means that “jurisdictional and legal challenges in collecting evidence” will be an issue, as law enforcement investigators will have to abide by laws in other countries.
The CAFC spokesperson added that caller ID “spoofing” makes it difficult to trace or identify the origin of the calls along with the use of “pre-paid cards and virtual currencies for the receipt and laundering of victim’s funds” adding a layer of sophistication to the scam which makes it harder for law enforcement to investigate.
In March, more than 60 scammers who were targeting Canadians in CRA scams were busted in a large takedown in India. The bust involved more than 40 illegal call centres in that country.
At the time, the RCMP stated they were “continuing to develop leads and information on the locations of these illegal call centres for enforcement purposes, in an effort to dismantle and disrupt these types of mass marketing schemes.”
It’s not clear if the calls plaguing Canadians recently originate from India.
CRTC spokeswoman Patricia Valladao told CTVNews.ca that the advent of technology like voice over internet protocol (VOIP) has seen an increase in scam calls, but the agency doesn’t know what’s behind the recent surge.
“We don’t know why there’s more, maybe the time of year. They go in trends,” Valladao said.
That message was echoed by Jeff Thompson, a senior RCMP intelligence agent working for the CAFC.
“These scams have existed since 2014, but they do come in waves. From one month to the next we’re going to see spikes in activity and we’re seeing one of those spikes right now,” Thompson said on CTV’s Your Morning on Friday.
Thompson said there were three critical aspects of these calls that Canadians should pay attention to:
Don’t trust caller ID
“Call display today can be spoofed,” Thompson said. “Spoofing involves fraudsters manipulating those numbers that appear on your call display, and they can make it look like it’s a government department calling, a local telephone number [or] they can put your local police phone number.”
Thompson said that while federal bodies like the RCMP may leave a message for someone, “they’re definitely not going to threaten anybody or scare anybody to call back.”
“It’s never going to have that aggressive tone to say you need to do this right away,” he said.
Using automated messages that have “alarming” tones is really the fraudster’s way of “extorting and coercing an individual’s reaction to the call,” Thompson said, adding that that is how they move into asking for money.
Asking for money
Thompson explained that once the fraudsters get the victim to react to the message, they will ask them for money, usually in “Bitcoin or gift card” form –warning that is something the government would never do.
“Anybody asking for money over the phone…simply hang up,” he said.
Tips to fight back
The CRTC in 2008, created a “do not call” list where the public can ask for their phone number to be taken off telemarketer lists. Charities are exempted and their calls allowed through.
Consumers can file complaints to Canada's do not call list at www.lnnte-dncl.gc.ca or 1-866-580-DNCL (3625) or 1-888-DNCL-TTY (362-5889) for the hearing impaired.
More than 13 million Canadian numbers are registered with the service, with $9 million in fines issued so far to callers that do not comply, Valladao said.
“It’s really important that people don’t disclose their personal information and hang-up,” Valladao said.
“CRTC has taken an aggressive approach to tackle this to try to identify these scammers.”
Valladao recommended doing an online search for the number that called to see if it’s legitimate.
The CRTC said it was working with industry for solutions to unsolicited calls including three-level identification at network level before the call is connected to the recepient.
“We do take it seriously and are working to find solutions with Canadian and international partners,” Valladao said.
One step is "universal call blocking," which will be applied at the network level to stop spoof numbers such as 000-000-0000.
The CRTC provides tips on its website on blocking or filtering unwanted calls.
Phone users can opt-in to call-filtering services, features that stop or allow calls from certain numbers or block them all together.
Apple customers with the latest iPhone update have a “Silence Unknown Callers” feature to send spam calls directly to voicemail, according to CNBC.
The Federal Communications Commission in the U.S also has a guide on how to stop unwanted robocalls and phone scams.
It urges users to beware of numbers showing as local, as it does not necessarily mean it’s a local caller.
Other advice includes speaking to the phone service provider about call blocking tools and researching apps that block unwanted calls.