Protection from phone scams
A recent report states that by next year almost half of the calls we receive on our mobile devices will be scam calls.
These types of phone scams have been around for many years, but due to changes in technology, the criminals behind these scams are able to change and vary the methods they use to prey on their victims. Common phone scams include tax (IRS or CRA) scams, “Windows” scams, lottery or prizewinning scams and others. Over the past many years there has been a dramatic increase in robocall scams, call spoofing scams and phone scams involving social engineering tactics. While these trends are somewhat disturbing, there are many things that one can do to protect themselves from being a victim. We were actually interviewed by CBC News about these types of tax phone scams back in 2016.
Proactive measures (prior to getting a spam call):
- The first step that many government agencies suggest is to register your number(s) on a “Do Not Call List.” Here is a link to the National Do Not Call list for Canadians. I know of articles debating the effectiveness of these types of lists and how government agencies (the FTC in this case) implementing these services are inundated with up to 375,000 complaints a month! Wow!
- Many cell phone providers are now offering services (some free and some paid) that in essence will flag calls not associated to your contact list as potentially spam. Most of these services will not block these types of calls, but will only inform you that they “may” be spam and allow you to manually block them. Some providers are offering more advanced (and more costly) services which attempt to identify the caller’s name and location and identify them as spam. This is challenging for spoofed calls.
- There are a variety of third-party applications that you can install on your mobile device (sorry for those that still have regular (non-voip) landlines). Most of these are subscription based and in essence, they check every call that comes into your device against known “bad” numbers and will block calls from coming through. Some of these apps only work with various mobile carriers (and within various countries) though. Best to check before signing up. These apps are also great at filtering calls that are from “spoofed” numbers. Examples of these include:
- You can set your device to only receive calls from known contacts (Do Not Disturb Mode), which is a great feature. However, you may end up missing calls by choosing this more drastic route.
- Just don’t answer the call unless you recognize the number. Depending on the time of the day, or where a call is coming from, I often do not answer a call if I do not recognize the number. I let the call go to my voicemail and will listen to it as soon as I can, and call the person back if needed.
Reactive measures (if you get a spam call):
- One method to help stop these types of call is blocking them on a one-by-one basis. While this may help, it is often time-consuming and often not very effective due to the fact that the scammers can easily change the number they call you from. I do try to make a habit of doing this though.
- If a caller asks you to hit a button (i.e. #) on your keypad to stop receiving these calls, DO NOT DO THIS!
- It is best to just hang up. Arguing with the caller will not help. That being said, some have made some fantastic videos showing how they have played around with the scammers.
- Try to not respond to any questions where the answer may be “yes”
- Most of these scams involve pressuring the victim into doing something. Treat these calls like you would treat a phishing email. If the call involves pressuring you into doing something, threatening to arrest you or saying you have a virus on your computer and they need to get remote access into your system to fix it, best to slow things down and not follow their instructions. Here are some blogs on phishing attacks that might help as well, as the scam methods are similar:
- If you do believe that these types of calls may be true, then please use common sense before responding. Tax agencies, police and other government agencies would never require you to pay via Bitcoin, or purchase iTunes gift cards to pay off any outstanding balances or to get someone out of jail. You can always hang up the phone and call your local law enforcement agency, bank or other agency for advice. There have, however, been recent scams where you think you hang up the phone but it does not disconnect. Best to wait a few minutes after hanging up and make sure you hear the dial tone. Or better, make the call from another phone if you have one.
- NEVER give out personal information on the phone (unless you are the one who placed the call). If your bank, or another organization you deal with calls you, they will already know this information. The scammers behind these calls can be very manipulating and convincing. Don’t fall for their tricks. Here is a great video showing how social engineers conduct these types of scams.
And as always, help protect others from being victimized by sharing this article, or just by letting others know some of these methods mentioned above. Stay safe.