SCAM ALERT WARNING: Cybercriminals Are Spoofing Reputable Numbers to Target You!
Scammers are getting savvier than ever in their attempts to target you in pursuit of stealing your personal information and hard-earned money. The latest scam? Spoofing reputable business phone numbers to trick you into answering the call. We breakdown everything you need to know in this informative article.
Spoofed Numbers & Phishing Scam Calls: What You Need to Know & How to Stay Protected
Recently, we started getting reports about strange calls that people were receiving from our business phone number. In fact, some individuals started calling our team and our answering service after-hours claiming to be returning a call from our number, even though no one from our team had reached out to them. As a team of IT professionals, we were immediately suspicious about these reports and as time went on, we asked individuals to explain these unsolicited calls in more detail.
It turns out, these individuals were receiving calls from our sales number and when they answered the call, an ominous recording told them they were wanted by Revenue Canada’s legal department. They didn’t need to tell us anymore – we knew exactly what was going on.
One of the latest tricks being deployed by malicious scam artists is what is known as Caller ID spoofing. While we were unnerved that these scam artists had taken to using our number as a dupe, we quickly realized that we could use this opportunity as a chance to educate and inform our clients and the general public about the prevalence of these phone scams.
In this article, we hope to break down some of the leading phone scams that are being used to target Canadian individuals and organizations – paying special attention to Caller ID spoofing. We hope that we can turn the unfortunate situation we’ve dealt with into a learning opportunity.
We know that the more individuals and organizations are aware of these scams, the better positioned they will be to address and report them. Keep reading to better understand everything you should know about Caller ID spoofing, other common phone scams in Canada, and the leading strategies for protecting yourself.
First Things First: What is Caller ID Spoofing?
Before we dive into the details about different scam calls and strategies for protecting ourselves, let’s pay specific attention to the scam that affected not only our organization but individuals in our community as well. The scam that all of us were subjected to was the result of a scammer tactic known as Caller ID spoofing.
Caller ID spoofing involves a scammer or team of scammers using the number of a reputable and verifiable business, organization, or individual to disguise the actual number they’re calling from. Scammers have come to realize that the more official and recognizable an incoming caller number seems, the more likely individuals are to pick up the call or return it if they miss it.
Caller ID spoofing can be deployed in several ways including:
- Altering a Caller ID number to match the first 6-digits of your telephone number so the call appears that it’s coming from someone local and perhaps someone you know. This tactic is known as ‘neighbouring’.
- Altering a Caller ID number to match your own telephone number exactly. This tactic is known as ‘mirroring’.
- Altering a Caller ID number to that of a verifiable individual or organization. For instance, scammers might pose as a reputable business or brand. This is what occurred in our case.
- Altering a Caller ID number to represent a phone number that cannot be dialed within the telephone network. For example, scammers might spoof you with an impossible phone number like 123-456-7890, 999-999-9999, or 17054076385738.
What Do Caller ID Spoofers Want and Is What They’re Doing Legal?
There are various reasons why a scammer might target an individual with a Caller ID spoof. However, in most cases, these scammers are looking to get their hands on your cold, hard, cash. The thing is, scammers have gotten wise to the fact that many Canadians will not pick up a call from a strange phone number, so they know their best bet is to disguise themselves as a number that might be more familiar or reputable.
The ultimate goal of these scammers is first and foremost to get you on the line. Once they make direct contact with a target, they have a better chance of playing on the fears, emotions, or blissful ignorance of unsuspecting victims.
Caller ID spoofers might try to get your personal data or money using a variety of tactics including:
- Claiming to be calling from a governmental agency like Revenue Canada or even federal, provincial, or municipal police departments. They’ll attempt to intimidate you by claiming you owe a significant amount of money and that you’ll be arrested and charged if you don’t provide personally-identifying information or cough up the funds immediately.
- Claiming to be a person in distress or in need of immediate help. Scammers have taken to cooking up sob-stories that prey on the emotions and goodwill of unsuspecting victims. They’ll claim they’re in danger or need help and hope that you’ll feel guilted into paying up. In the worst cases of these emotional exploitation scams, scammers will pretend to be a distressed relative of their unsuspecting target in hopes that this will increase the chance of a quick pay-day.
- Claiming that you have won a big prize or contest. Scammers will claim that there is a million-dollar prize or luxury vacation waiting to be claimed by you. However, they’ll insist that you provide a variety of sensitive contact information that can then be used to steal your identity and hack your personal accounts.
These are just some of the ways that Caller ID spoofers will try to exploit you once they get you on the phone. We should make it very clear that what these scammers do is highly illegal. In fact, even legitimate and legal telemarketing companies are strictly prohibited from spoofing or altering their incoming phone number in any way. In the case of telemarketers, Caller ID spoofing can result in fines up to $15,000 per violation, and in the more malicious scams we describe above, scammers can face major fines and prosecution for fraud.
Things You Can Do to Protect Yourself From Phone Scammers
Here’s the thing. Phone scams have become so common that it can often feel like there’s nothing you can do to protect yourself from these unsolicited calls. It’s not just about Caller ID spoofing either. Phone scams in Canada take many other forms as well, and all of them are designed to get you on the line and manipulate you into handing over personal data or your hard-earned money.
The Government of Canada via the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is trying to do more to help individuals across the country protect themselves from these kinds of scams. Without a doubt, the best first line of defence is educational awareness. The more that Canadians come to know and understand the various call scams that exist, the better chance they have at protecting themselves.
As a team of IT professionals who values the data security of every individual and organization we work with, we want to help the Canadian government in its mission to inform and empower Canadians. So, we’ve put together a compilation of different things you should know and different strategies you can use to make sure you’re never duped by malicious scammers.
Tips for Avoiding Unwanted Calls
The first thing you should do to protect yourself from unwanted spoof and scam calls is to implement strategies to avoid receiving the calls in the first place. Since scammers are savvy and constantly looking for new ways to target you, there is no way to ensure that you will never receive a scam call. However, there are a few things you can do to mitigate the frequency with which you might be targeted.
- Register your phone number with the National Do Not Call list coordinated by the Canadian government. You can do so here.
- Look into call management features offered by your telephone service provider.
- Always screen your calls and don’t pick up calls from numbers you don’t recognize. Instead, let them go to voicemail and don’t return a call to anyone that sounds unfamiliar or suspicious. Remember, if you answer an unsolicited call by accident, you always have the ability to hang up. If they call back, don’t answer.
- If you pick up a call and make contact with the telemarketer or scammer, request directly to be added to their internal do not call list.
- Consider getting an unlisted phone number. By doing this, your number will remain unlisted and thus much more difficult to obtain by telemarketers and scammers.
- Be cautious about giving out your phone number. Only give your phone number to trusted sources.
Tips for Protecting Yourself Against Scammers
Now that we’ve gone over some of the ways to avoid receiving scam calls altogether, let’s discuss some of the ways you can protect yourself, your data, and your money in the unfortunate case that you’re caught up in a scam call. There are a variety of things you can do to prevent a scammer from exploiting you.
- NEVER give out any personal information of any kind – If you find yourself on the line with an unfamiliar individual who is claiming you need to provide personal information like phone numbers, email or home addresses, banking details, or your social insurance number, simply refuse to hand over the information. Reputable sources will have official channels through which information is shared and collected – they will never make unsolicited calls demanding you fork over data or payment immediately. When in doubt, refuse to provide confidential information until you can verify the source and request.
- DO NOT authorize the caller to remotely access your computer, tablet, or smartphone – If the caller you’re speaking with claims to be contacting you about a security or performance issue regarding one of your devices, they may request remote access to your computer. NEVER authorize this access and hang-up immediately even if the caller claims to be a representative for well-known brands like Apple or Microsoft.
- ALWAYS read company data policies before handing over information – If you’re convinced the caller you’re speaking with is a representative for a verifiable and reputable organization and they’ve requested information from you, tell them you want to access and read their data use, storage, and transmission policies first. Many companies hide things in the fine print, and your contact information might be sold to telemarketers, making it easier for scammers to find. Further, even though the company you’re dealing with might not use your data for malicious purposes, even the way they store and transmit your data could leave you vulnerable. Always read the fine print first and only provide data in a secure manner if you feel comfortable doing so.
- DO NOT try to reason with criminals & limit your time speaking to them – If you suspect that you’re being scammed, remember that there is no reasoning with a scammer. Don’t waste your time trying to lecture them about what they’re doing or asking who they are. The longer you stay on the phone, the greater your chances of being scammed or exploited. The second you realize it’s a scam call, simply hang-up and report them.
Tips for Identifying Common Phone Scams
As we mentioned, there are countless ways that malicious actors try to target unsuspecting victims with phone scams. A great way to stay protected is to remain aware of the different approaches scammers use to manipulate and exploit you. By better understanding these approaches, you’ll stand a much better chance of identifying common scams right off the bat. There are several suspected phone scam approaches and the more you know about them, the better.
- Unsolicited calls from agents who claim to be representing Air Miles or WestJet, offering major vacation discounts are very likely a SCAM.
- Unsolicited calls from agents claiming to represent Google and alleging that your Google accounts are expired are very likely a SCAM.
- Unsolicited calls from individuals claiming you’re entitled to a FREE product or service once you hand over personal information are very likely a SCAM.
- Unsolicited calls from individuals claiming to be technical support agents calling to fix a problem with your device that you were unaware of are very likely a SCAM.
- Unsolicited calls from a number you recognize where the caller is someone you do not know are very likely a SCAM.
- Unsolicited calls from a number you do not recognize where the caller claims to be a representative for a reputable company or someone you know are very likely a SCAM.
How to Respond If You Think You’ve Been Scammed
So, you’ve found yourself victimized by a phone scammer. What should you do next? First thing’s first, don’t panic and don’t beat yourself up. If you think you have fallen victim to a scam there are a variety of things you should do based on the kind of data that has been exploited.
- Alert your financial institution – If you handed over banking or credit card details to an unverified source over the phone and you think it was a scam, get ahead of the problem by immediately contacting the financial institution in question. If you act fast enough, these institutions might be able to put holds on your accounts to prevent theft.
- Report the call by filing a complaint – If the call you received was from a telemarketing company that you requested not to call you, you can file a complaint with the National Do Not Call List by calling 1-866-580-3625.
- Get assistance from identity theft experts – If you gave away personal information that you think could be used to steal your identity, reach out to the Canadian Identity Theft Support Centre immediately by calling 1-866-436-5461.
- Reach out to an IT specialist if necessary – If you authorized access to your computer or device and are worried about the security of your data, software, and hardware, reach out to a team of IT security specialists who can assess the situation with an expert eye.
- Contact law enforcement – If in any of the above cases you believe that the call you received might be part of a fraud scheme, contact law enforcement immediately or reach out to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre by calling 1-888-495-8501. While it might seem like more work than it’s worth, making the call to report fraud scams could help prevent others from being scammed and will help fraud specialists better target these criminals for prosecution.
Additional Strategies for Awareness + Protection
In addition to all the tips and tricks we’ve included above, there are also some everyday things you can do to prevent yourself and those around you from being victims of scam and fraud calls.
- If you’re an organizational leader, talk to your team about existing phone scams and encourage them to come forward if they take any suspicious calls.
- If you’re an organizational leader, communicate with your clients, and potential clients about these scams. Let them know that your organization would never request sensitive data or payment over the phone unless pre-authorized. Ask them to report any calls from your business number that appear to be suspicious or spoofed.
- Talk to your friends and family – especially older relatives and friends who are more susceptible to these types of scams. Reiterate that personal data or money should never be given over the phone unless the source and request have been undoubtedly verified.
- Stay in the know about new and evolving scams and threats. Visit the websites for the CRTC and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre regularly to ensure you’re up-to-date on existing scams.
- When in doubt, reach out to a team of IT professionals who have the experience and expertise necessary to help you implement more dynamic and strategic solutions for protection.
Want to learn more about protecting your data and money from scammers? Give us a call anytime!
Ever since our organization’s phone number was used in a Caller ID spoofing scam, we’ve recommitted ourselves to helping individuals and organizations better understand the different ways that malicious actors target unsuspecting victims in pursuit of data or cash. The fact of the matter is, phone scams are only ONE of the countless tactics that malicious actors are using to target individuals. In fact, with more people spending more time online than ever before, email and internet scams are on the rise as well.
If your organization is looking for more information about existing scams and strategies to combat them, never hesitate to reach out to our team of IT security professionals. Our team has the experience and the expertise necessary to ensure that you feel empowered and informed. After all, the old saying is true – knowledge is power. Reach out to our team of experts if you’d like to better arm yourself or your organization against malicious scammers.
Give us a call anytime at (416) 410-7268, drop us a line at email@example.com, or visit our website at www.sysoft.ca to chat with a live agent and book a consultation.
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