Kevin Greenard: Be skeptical of unknown callers

Kevin Greenard

In my mid- to late-20s and early 30s, I travelled throughout 63 countries. I had no real incidents and I attribute that to some good advice I received from a couple of well-seasoned travellers.

The first piece of advice was to essentially trust no one that comes up to you. If people did approach me wanting something, I was always skeptical. Instead, I felt comfortable doing my own research and then being the one to approach others.

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Those same skills are still needed and applicable today — the only difference is that now we are also dealing with technology and not just people face-to-face.

Most people are honest

Although most people are honest, some are not. Unfortunately, one of the negatives with technology is that it allows a handful of unscrupulous people to create havoc on the masses. These individuals can be in our own country or anywhere else around the globe.

Technology enables scammers to contact millions of people very quickly. They prey on the honest and vulnerable — knowing that if they get only a tiny fraction of the people to fall for their deception then they can often at times be financially rewarded. The purpose of this article is to provide suggestions on how to eliminate unwanted phone calls.

Call control

One of the first steps we encourage people to take to reduce the number of unsolicited and spam type calls they receive is to set up call control. Call control is particularly useful with automated phone calls.

Call control is a feature that prompts the caller to enter a number on their keypad. If the number entered is correct, then the call will go through to you. If the caller fails to enter the correct number, they’ll hear an automatic message that they’ve been prevented from reaching you.

With some telecom companies, you are able to create an “accepted list” through your online account. This is a predetermined number of individuals that will only have to do the call control component the first time they call. All future times they will get through directly. Examples of numbers you may want to put on the accepted list include family, friends, work colleagues, medical and dental professionals, school offices, library, accountant, portfolio manager, etc.

Another option that some telecom companies have is the ability to create a “Blocked List”. You can put a set number of phone numbers on the list and these individuals will not be able to get through.

In our opinion, and experience, one of the best companies in Canada that has features to protect consumers is Telus. Below I have put two links that provide information on Telus’s call control features:

1) Telus Call Control – Land Line / Home Phone

2) Telus Call Control – Mobile

With Telus, call control is a free feature. With this free feature you can create an “accepted list” with a maximum of 25 names that can reach you directly, and a “blocked list” of up to 25 names that cannot reach you at all. Telus does provide an upgraded service for $3 a month that enables you to add up to 100 phone numbers to both the accepted and blocked lsts. Check with your own service provider to see what options and services are available to you.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) had previously asked all telecommunication carriers in Canada to provide information on the options and features they offer to protect Canadians from unsolicited and illegitimate calls. You can see it here.

Incoming phone calls

If a customer was using Telus, and had call control set up, then many unwanted phone calls would be blocked, certainly all the automated phone calls. Our recommendation is that if you do not recognize the phone number then don’t answer the phone.

Call display is tricky

If the display of the person calling you is “unknown caller” or “no caller ID” then you should immediately be skeptical. For the person calling you to show up this way, they would have purposely blocked their identification. If the individual phoning is legitimate, or their call is important, then they will leave a message or have their name displayed.

Even if there is a name on your call display, you must be aware of caller ID spoofing. Spoofing is when the caller deliberately changes the identification on the display to disguise themselves, or to appear as someone else, for unethical reasons.

One example of caller ID spoofing entails the caller changing the first six digits of their phone number to match the first six digits of your phone number. This makes it appear like they are calling locally from your area, when in fact they are calling from somewhere else in Canada, or globally. It’s also common to encounter caller ID spoofing where the caller is pretending to be a well-known organization or brand. They could be pretending to be CRA or a bank and may be very convincing.

Answering machines are a good screening tool

If you do not recognize the individual phoning, or they have blocked their identification, then we always recommend letting your answering machine answer the call. If the call is legitimate, and you are hearing the message, you can always pick up the phone or call them back. With spoofing, and creative scammers, using a skeptical approach to all uncertain phone calls is prudent.

If someone leaves you a voice message and you do not know them, but they are representing themselves as part of an organization you deal with, we also recommend that instead of phoning them back with the phone number they left, that you call them back using a phone number you found directly on the company’s website or on your monthly statement.

Automated phone calls

Automated phone calls are often referred to as robo-callers. Just like our clients, we are also recipients of these automated phone calls, both at work and at home. We find these phone calls more of an irritant than anything. The direction I have provided to staff is to just hang up immediately.

At home, certain organizations and businesses are using an automated confirmation system to confirm appointments. In some of the automated calls, they can detect when a person has answered the phone, or they will encourage you to press a button to connect to a live person.

As noted above, some organizations are using automated systems to confirm appointments (i.e. medical or dental). The procedure with most of these organizations or companies that I have spoken with is if they cannot get confirmation through the automated method, because of call control, then they will have humans in the office that will make the calls and be able to press the appropriate buttons to get through call control.

These types of automated calls are more reminders. Our recommendation is to keep track of your appointments in a book, calendar (electronic or physical), or phone as a reminder.

National Do Not Call List

The primary purpose of this article is to assist people in not getting scammed and providing tips on how best to protect themselves. The National Do Not Call List (DNCL) holds a register of phone numbers to help reduce the number of telemarketing calls you receive. Unwanted marketing calls can certainly be annoying, and you can simply register both your home phone number and mobile phone number.

Here is the link to register: https://lnnte-dncl.gc.ca/en

It will take a month (31 days) for your registration to take effect, but once registered your number will remain on the DNCL. If you received a new phone number, or if you are not sure if you have your numbers registered, you can always check to see if your number is registered on the DNCL through the above link. Unfortunately, the scammers and unscrupulous individuals may not even reside in Canada, or if they do, may not care that your number is on the DNCL.

If you encounter fraud

Many of these robo-callers use scare tactics to try and get people to act out of fear. It’s inevitable that sometime in the future you will receive one of these calls. When you do, we hope you will remain skeptical and keep some of these suggestions in mind.

Telephone scams are constantly evolving, which makes exercising caution and remaining skeptical even more important. For our clients, we always ask that they call us directly if they suspect they have encountered any phone calls that seem suspicious.

The Government has created the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center. If you do suspect that you’ve encountered fraud, there is a toll-free number you can call to report the incident: 1-888-495-8501. People may feel embarrassed if they have been the victim of fraud, but they shouldn’t and the sooner it can be reported, the better. This can help to protect yourself and to also protect others by spreading awareness.

Kevin Greenard CPA CA FMA CFP CIM is a Portfolio Manager and Director, Wealth Management, with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria. His column appears every week at timescolonist.com. Call 250-389-2138, email greenard.group@scotiawealth.com, or visit greenardgroup.com.

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