By Pauline Kerr
The phone rings. After a moment’s delay, the mechanical voice identifies itself as Visa security, and describes a couple of weird charges on a credit card.
At that point, most people mutter a few choice words and hang up. The call is obviously a scam.
The volume of these calls seems to be increasing, or it could be that more of us are at home because of COVID-19 to receive the calls. Frustrating.
The type of call seems to be changing too – not so much frustrating as disturbing. Someone told the police are on their way with a search warrant might not recognize it as a scam, especially since the call can be made to look like it comes from a local police phone number.
It seems quite plausible in this age of identity theft that some piece of identification could have been stolen or copied, and then used in commission of a crime. When a sympathetic caller suggests bank accounts may have been compromised – they can check, just give them the account numbers and passwords – a person might.
Of course, the caller might take a different tack and suggest the person just pay the fine and make the whole mess go away. There is nothing like terrifying a person and then offering them an easy way out, to get them to open their wallet.
The COVID-19 pandemic has offered phone scammers new opportunities to separate us from our hard-earned money.
Someone who might not get out much – which describes a large number of elderly people during a lockdown – might believe a caller pretending to be from Revenue Canada who says special arrangements have been made because of the pandemic to accept new forms of payment for unpaid taxes, for example, gift cards or Bit Coin.
Scammers like to target people who are elderly or who have cognitive deficits, new Canadians who may not understand how our banking or police systems work, and anyone who is naïve or vulnerable in some way.
Their dream come true is a loving, generous and naïve grandma who lives on her own. She might believe a grandchild off skiing somewhere needs bail money immediately, and even better, might be too embarrassed to tell anyone after she figures out she has been scammed.
Not that it matters if she actually calls police. Most phone scammers operate from outside Canada, despite what that number on call display indicates. A report will be filed with local police and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. And there will be another public service announcement alerting people on how to avoid being victimized by the latest phone fraud. Public education is how our government responds to this type of crime.
We realize going after criminals in other countries is hard, but not impossible. If the crime even hints at terrorism, it seems quite doable.
Perhaps we should start referring to certain cases of phone fraud as terrorism – scaring the living daylights out of some poor soul by threatening to haul him off to jail for not paying his taxes would certainly qualify.
Perhaps a government official would kindly explain, in terms we can understand, why a country as forward-thinking and tech-savvy as Canada has not done a better job of protecting our telecommunications system from crime. They might tell us how scammers can make millions of overseas phone calls per day at virtually no cost, while regular customers pay big money for every call.
And perhaps those of us who have been victimized by a phone scam or are simply tired of those early morning robocalls from the fake Visa security clown could ask why Canada continues to provide foreign aid to countries where phone scam call centres are known to operate freely.
In the meantime, we need to read up on the latest Revenue Canada scams. Tax season is almost upon us, and what with CERB and other COVID-related mixups, it promises to be fairly chaotic.
The scammers, darned their nasty, four-sizes-too-small hearts, will be taking full advantage.