Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/2/2017 (1156 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s getting to the point where you are in danger of being victimized just by answering the phone.
Canadian anti-fraud investigators say there is a drop off in the number of Canada Revenue Agency phone scam calls since police in India busted a scammer ring in October.
But it looks like there’s a new seemingly innocuous scam to be wary of.
When the phone rings and the caller says "Can you hear me?" don’t even answer. Just hang up.
In this one, the scammer (a robo-caller) will record the victim’s voice saying "yes" and then follow up with an aggressive pitch telling the unsuspecting victim they’ve agreed to buy something. Then they will play a recording of the victim’s voice where it sounds as if they have agreed to buy something and then threaten to take legal action if they try to deny the charges.
It has been rampant in the U.S. the past few weeks and on Tuesday the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), a joint venture between the RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police, said they are starting to get complaints about this scam in Canada.
Sgt. John Mecher, an officer with the RCMP’s Greater Toronto Financial Crime Unit who worked on the CRA scam, said "Whatever happens in the U.S., scam-wise, usually migrates up here in some form or another. The CRA scam originally started in the U.S. as an IRS scam."
In the CRA scam, heavy-handed callers (mostly from India) claimed to with the CRA and tried to strong-arm people to pay phony unpaid tax bills that had to be settled "right now" or face serious repercussions.
Mecher said while the number of those calls have declined, they have not stopped. The same fraudsters are now doubling back on victims telling them they will get those payments back for a substantial fee.
The Better Business Bureau offices throughout the U.S. have been warning people for a couple of weeks about the "Can you hear me?" scam.
On Tuesday, Nancy Cahill of the CAFC said, "Yes, the calls are starting to come (in Canada). The best way to protect yourself is to not answer calls from unfamiliar phone numbers or any from unknown number. That’s the best advice."
The CAFC believes more than 2,000 victims have disbursed more than $6.2 million to fraudsters posing as government officials since January 2014. And they believe that only five per cent of such incidents even get reported.
Adam Levin, chairman and founder of New York-based CyberScout, said, "Hacking and identity theft is all based on vulnerability, and vulnerability based on distraction. This scam is another example of using distraction as leverage to exploit vulnerability."
He said the reason these things can sometimes be successful for the bad guys is that they take a situation in which what is being asked of you does not sound unreasonable.
"Hackers and scammers are creative, sophisticated and persistent," he said. "They are counting on one thing — each and every one of us has a day job, whether it’s family, a private business or being an employee. We are busy. For the bad guys, we are their day job."
They are trained to be convincing and do not back down easily.
Mecher said he recently had occasion to intervene on behalf of a victim of the CRA scam. He got on the phone, identified himself as an RCMP officer, but the fraudster persisted, admonishing Mecher for getting in the way of an official CRA undertaking.
Eventually Mecher had to hang up in frustration.
He said, "In the end, it was like talking to a drunken psychopath."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
Updated on Thursday, February 2, 2017 at 10:53 AM CST: Corrects name to Sgt. John Mecher