Wrong Number: How to recognize and avoid telephone scams

by Susanna Chu November 5th, 2018 in Security Resources
Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 20 seconds
Wrong Number: How to recognize and avoid telephone scams

Recent police raids on Indian call centres have turned the spotlight on telephone scams. One raid netted a spreadsheet with information on 600 Canadian victims of a tax scam. Another fraud centre convinced Windows users they needed tech support. Do you recognize these common schemes?

CRA Scam: Typically, a robocaller supposedly from the Canada Revenue Agency says you owe taxes. You must call back or go to jail. Call spoofing technology tricks you into believing the call originated in Canada, perhaps even from a CRA centre. If you return the call, the operator issues threats, but offers you one chance to pay up.

Windows Tech Support Scam: A message or ad pops up on your screen claiming your computer has been attacked by malware and you must call the number indicated for immediate help. Or, a scammer calls and remotely diagnoses malware on your computer. Either way, you subscribe to a long-term service to fix a problem you don’t have. Or, the scammer uses the remote access you’ve permitted in order to steal your financial and identity data.

Bank Phishing Scam: Using call spoofing, scammers pretend to be calling from your financial institution. Warning that you are a victim of fraud, they relay some information about you and phish for more.

Fat Finger Scam: Con artists secure telephone numbers very similar to legitimate customer support numbers. You call regarding a product or service, unwittingly dialling the wrong number. A representative congratulates you on winning a gift card or other giveaway, or asks you to complete a survey. To claim your prize, you provide your name, address and credit card number.

More telemarketing scams

These scams have a lot in common. Here’s how to spot one:

  1. It’s too good to be true. How did you win a contest you didn’t enter?
  2. Pay to play. Why pay a fee to collect a prize?
  3. They ask for your financial information. Legitimate businesses and government agencies don’t do this.
  4. They want cash or a money order. Not a cheque or credit card.
  5. They’re more excited than you are about the offer
  6. The caller is someone important: a manager, official, lawyer or other authority figure.
  7. A stranger wants to be your best friend. Lonely folks are prime targets.
  8. You have to act now or you will miss out on a limited opportunity.

What you can do to protect yourself: 

  1. Don’t click on phone links in pop-up windows or unsolicited emails. Look them up.
  2. Don’t share personal or financial information.
  3. Ask the caller for a name, call-back number, written information, references etc.
  4. Ask for and take the time to consider the offer.
  5. Resist repeat calls. Telemarketing scammers aggressively hound victims to wear down their resistance.

The most prepared person may, in a moment of distraction, fall for a scam. Try to make it a habit to always say no, or ask for more time, before responding to any survey or offer. And if you slip up, don’t be embarrassed. Report your experience to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and your local police. Since scammers often share a “sucker list,” don’t be surprised if you receive a lot more calls. Just hang up.


Common, David. Police raid Indian call centres linked to "CRA phone scam" that have victimized Canadians. CBC News, October 30, 2018.

Fleishman, Glen. A convincing, new phone phishing scam wants your banking secrets. Here's how to stay secure. Fortune, October 2, 2018.

Ramsay, Caley. Edmonton couple warns others after falling victim to "fat finger" phone scam. Global News, October 31, 2018.

Scam targeting Windows users busted. The Pioneer (India), October 6, 2018.

Telemarketing Scams. Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre

Telephone Scams. Crimestoppers.

Note: This blog discusses general safety and security topics. It is not intended to provide comprehensive advice or guidance. In all matters of personal safety and security, We encourage readers to research topics in depth and consult a security professional about specific concerns..

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