If you feel like you’ve been getting more of those annoying scam calls lately, you’re not alone. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says they’re on the rise, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the first seven months of 2020, the centre received 23,655 reports tied to telephone solicitations.
That’s on track to nearly double compared to 2019, when it received 24,835 reports for the whole year.
“We did see a dip in these calls through April and May, but as things have come back online, we’ve seen a great increase in scam calls,” said the centre’s senior RCMP intelligence analyst, Jeff Thomson.
“Let’s call them what they are: these are fraudsters using the phone as a weapon to try and defraud Canadians.”
Canadians didn’t necessarily lose money in all of those incidents, but Edmontonian Karen Anthony did.
She got a call from a local number she didn’t know on Thursday. The caller was a woman.
“She said she was calling from the Service Canada Investigations Division and she was calling because my social insurance number had been compromised,” Anthony said.
The fraudster had distressing news for Anthony. A criminal had allegedly opened two dozen bank accounts in her name, connected to things like money laundering, drug trafficking and bribery.
Anthony felt the pressure immediately.
“I had two choices to deal with this: I could either accept the allegations brought against me and deal with it through court, or I could work with the police to catch the criminals,” she said.
The scammer kept her on the phone the whole time, transferring her once to a “senior manager” and telling her she couldn’t talk to any of her friends or family because they could be the ones causing trouble with her SIN.
Anthony recalled them asking her the number of her local police department, which she looked up on Google and gave to them. Then she suddenly had an incoming call. Her caller ID showed it was coming from her local police.
When Anthony answered, she was told she needed to “protect” her money from the criminals trying to steal it.
“Go quick, lie to your bank. Withdraw all your money and deposit it into a bitcoin machine,” she recalled them saying.
Fooled by the spoofed police number, Anthony did as she was told. On Friday morning, when she called police herself to ask them about her file, they informed her she’d been scammed.
She lost more than $15,000.
“The bottom dropped out of my stomach,” Anthony recalled.
“That’s everything I had — everything I had to my name. I’m not a rich person. I live in a little condo. I struggle to make ends meet.”
Thomson said there’s no way to prevent scammers from calling, though he notes the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is working on it.
“It’s a game of numbers right? They’re going to call as many people as possible — basically anybody with a phone,” he explained.
He notes that demands for money, including gift cards, are usually a red flag, as is threatening and coercive language.
Thomson said scammers often mirror or spoof local area codes because they come across as more trustworthy.
But international scams are also prevalent.
“Somebody’s gotten a call from an international number,” he explained. “And the call just hangs up or goes to dead air. They’re trying to call that number back. That’s essentially a telephone fraud where you’re going to incur long-distance charges.
“The fraudsters are getting money through those long-distance charges.”
Thomson’s best advice?
“We always recommend you hang up and don’t waste your time,” Thomson said.
“We need people to stop and think about things and not react to these calls. Scrutinize the types of calls they’re getting. Talk to family members and friends.”
It’s a statement Anthony echoes, having learned too late to save her money.
“If you get a call like this, don’t do what they say,” she pleaded.