It is probably safe to say that telephone fraud was not what Alexander Graham Bell had in mind when he pioneered the telephone in the 1870s. Unfortunately, modern-day telephone scammers defraud consumers out of millions of dollars annually. We hope that this article will help you to protect yourself from becoming the victim of a telephone scam.
How to Recognize Frauds and Scams
Some of the most common telephone schemes are phishing, telemarketing scams, prize schemes, 1-900 numbers, and “emergency grandchild” fraud.
Phishing is when someone pretends to be a trusted person or organization in order to steal your personal information, usually for the purpose of identity theft. Phishing calls often pretend to be from your bank, a charitable organization, or government agency. The caller “needs” you to confirm personal information (such as your name, birth date, or SIN) that they will then use to steal your identity and empty your bank accounts. Always be on guard when you receive an unexpected call asking for personal information, as your bank or other institution will almost never call you for that information.
Be cautious also when you receive a call from a telemarketer trying to sell you a “great deal” or claiming to have important warranty information about something you already own. This is often a variation on phishing or an attempt to sell you shoddy merchandise, and any personal information you provide (such as credit card or bank account information) may be used to defraud you.
If you are asked to call a 1-900 number for some reason, remember that you are paying for the call at an average rate of $4.99 per minute. You will often get a voice response system which slows down the call and makes it hard to minimize the calling time. Don’t confuse 1-900 numbers with legitimate 1-800 (and 1-888, 1-877) toll free numbers.
You are probably the target of a prize scheme if you have hear a phrase like, “Congratulations, you’ve won a trip to Hawaii!” The company usually promises a valuable prize in return for a minor purchase or fee requiring a credit card number. The best thing to do when you receive this kind of call is to hang up, as you will likely never see the prize but will see large charges on your telephone bill and/or your credit card.
Be especially cautious if you get an unexpected call from your “grandchild” (or a close friend or other relative) claiming to be in some sort of trouble that requires you to wire funds or disclose bank account or credit card information in order to “rescue” them. This is an increasingly common fraud that almost invariably leads to the loss of your funds.
Are You a Victim?
If you are a victim of any of these or other scams, there are steps that you should take immediately to address the problem and to try to minimize the damage. Notify your financial institution if your bank accounts or credit cards are involved, and notify government offices about any official documents that may be affected (e.g., Passport Canada, SIN, OHIP). Contact your local police department, as the scam may violate the Criminal Code. Reporting may also be important to show your financial institution that you really are an innocent victim, and in order to qualify for liability limits on your credit and debit accounts.
To avoid future telemarketing calls, register on the National Do Not Call List (https://www.lnnte-dncl.gc.ca/, 1-866-580-DNCL (3625). Registering is free, but you must re-register every three years.
If you were caught in a prize scheme, in addition to your local police you should contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca, 1-888-495-8501), as well as the Competition Bureau (www.competitionbureau.gc.ca, 1-800-348-5358), and the Ministry of Consumer Services. The Competition Act prohibits telling you that you have won a prize but must pay money or incur a cost to collect it. These organizations can investigate the scheme, and warn others about the scam. These same organizations will investigate 1-900 scams, and “grandchild emergency” scams.
If you have lost money from your bank accounts or incurred charges on your credit cards, contact your bank and explain what happened. They may be willing to reimburse your account, especially if you have also filed a complaint with your local police and with the organizations listed above. Similarly, if you have 1-900 charges as a result of a scam, your telephone company may be willing to reduce those charges if you contact it and explain what happened.
You can find more information about consumer protection topics at any time in a series of Community Law School webinars archived online at www.yourlegalrights.on.ca/training-topic/consumer-law. Be empowered, and stay tuned.
This column is brought to you by Community Law School (Sarnia-Lambton) Inc., and Community Legal Services and Pro Bono Students Canada at Western University, with funding support from the Law Foundation of Ontario. It provides legal information only. The information is accurate as of the date of publication. Laws change frequently so we caution readers from relying on this information if some time has passed since publication. If you need specific legal advice please contact a lawyer, your community legal clinic: Rural Legal Services at (613) 279-3252 or 1-888-777-8916, Justice Net at 1-866-919-3219, or the Law Society Referral Service at 1-800-268-8326.