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Hung up: Canada’s surge in scam calls leaves Canadians frustrated

By Carlie Vassos, November 20 2019—

If you have gotten a number of calls claiming to be from the Canadian Federal Government recently, you’re not the only one. In recent months there has been a surge of telephone scammers under the guise of legitimate phone numbers and caller ID names claiming to be the CRA or Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada. Although many Canadians are aware of the signs of a scammer — such as those automated messages asking for your social insurance number — there are still many who are tricked by these scam artists. Since 2014, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has gotten around 78,472 reports from across Canada of scammers pretending to represent legitimate government departments, law courts and agencies. Between last year and this year alone, over $7,420,620 has been scammed out of Canadians in the CRA spoofing scam. 

Why are Canadians falling for these scams? Other than a lack of precautionary awareness in most cases, the primary reason is the development of technology used by scammers and the lack of implemented technology by our telecom companies. Although you may say that you would never fall for a phone scam, the numbers show that quite a large number of people have. You may think you would never give your information to a stranger over the phone, but the calls are getting more convincing and sounding more ‘legitimate’ with technology. Aside from scam artists now using legitimate phone numbers to reel you in, some scammers now use using old landline phone technology to scam bank customers out of their money. For instance, a recent example in Toronto saw a couple lose around $33,000 of their savings. In this particular case, the victim received a landline call from their bank, with the “employee” reporting there had been fraudulent activity on the individual’s bank card. The individual was then told to call the number on the back of the card to sort out the situation, however, the scammer did not hang up and stayed on the line. The victim, thinking they were calling the bank, heard fake ringing and that’s when the scam started. Although calls are terminated on cell phones if one hangs up, that’s not the case with landlines. 

Although scammers are getting more clever, most of the time people notice the red flags and hang up immediately. However, with people receiving a high increase of calls with seemingly recognizable caller ID, people have become more paranoid and concerned. So why aren’t our telecom companies doing more to block these calls? 

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has given the telecom industry until Dec. 19 to have systems that block or filter out the majority of illegal phone calls, but it has also told service providers that they’ll have to take more action. The CRTC wants carriers to put in place a system that can trace the origin of spam calls. As well, many service providers such as Rogers state that most smartphones have features for blocking unwanted calls, many are just unaware of it. For example, the recent iOS 13 iPhone update for apple users has the “Silence Unknown Callers” feature. However, this feature is turned off by default as not every number in your contact list is spam. 

Although one should question why telecom industries are becoming more interested in implementing anti-scam caller technology, it cannot be overlooked that spoofing is an especially difficult type of unwanted call. This is because there can be legitimate reasons for altering a caller’s ID  such as a doctor calling to discuss a patient’s results. A medical professional may want the hospital’s general call back number to be displayed in the Caller ID for future inquiries. 

While it may cause people great annoyance and frustration to personally block call after call, an influx of scam callers is to be expected in an age where smartphones have taken over landlines. Unlike landlines, cell phones use voice-over IP (VoIP), in which phone calls are made using the internet instead of a traditional telephone line. So until the scam surge calms down, the best solution to mitigate unwanted callers is to do research on the federal departments, agencies and courts whose numbers are being spoofed, and to be aware of the red flags of unwanted callers. So the next time an uncertain caller pops up on your phone, just hang up.

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet‘s editorial board.

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