Beware of this telephone scam.
Welcome to Cyber Security Today. It’s Friday, November 4th, 2022. I’m Howard Solomon, contributing reporter on cybersecurity for ITWorldCanada.com.
On this show I want to talk about telephone scams. Not merely someone pretending to be from Amazon, or the tax department or Microsoft. These are calls you ought to know to hang up on. I’m talking today about sophisticated scams.
A person I know in Toronto, I’ll call him ‘Vern Greenshoes’, got a phone call this week from someone claiming to be from the “Federal Government Fraud Investigation Bureau.” First, there’s no such agency in Canada or the U.S. But bear with me.
The caller said a crook using ‘Vern’s’ credit card had been arrested at a big Toronto shopping mall trying to make large purchases. The arrested man said his name was ‘Jules Greenshoes.’ He claimed the credit card belonged to his cousin ‘Vern’. No, said ‘Vern,’ I don’t have a cousin. The so-called investigator then told ‘Vern’ to phone 911 and report the incident to a specific police inspector. So ‘Vern’ hung up the phone, called 911 and was transferred to a supposed police inspector. Then he got another phone call from the fraud investigator saying his bank account had been compromised so he should cash in his retirement fund and move the money to a particular bank. Not only that, the investigator told ‘Vern,’ he shouldn’t tell the bank why he was doing this because the bank might be involved in fraud. ‘Vern’ quickly realized this was a scam and hung up.
Let me go back a minute. Remember the 911 call? One of the ways this scam is convincing is the 911 call. How can you fake a call to police? Actually, it’s easy, and I’ve reported on this before. Crooks use technology to seize your phone line after you answer a call. So when you hang up you haven’t disconnected. Then the crook can do things like play a fake dial tone when you pick up the receiver. You think you’re dialing out. All the crook and their partners have to do is wait a minute, and then answer whatever they want: In this case they pretended to be a 911 operator, who passed the call to the fake police inspector.
In another version of this scam, someone calls claiming to be from your bank or credit card company about your stolen credit card. “I know you’re worried this could be a scam,” the crook says, “so look on the back of your card for the bank company phone number. Hang up and dial that.” It’s the same thing: Victims worried about losing money quickly hang up and dial the 1-800 number. But they’re not dialing out. The crook’s partner answers the call pretending to be from the bank.
Here’s what to do if you get a call like this: Hang up and wait 15 minutes or more before you call out. Or, if you’re really worried, go to your nearest bank branch and speak to a bank employee in person. Can’t do that because it’s a weekend? Wait until Monday. Banks are insured against fraud and theft. If it’s a real call about the theft of your credit or debit card, you won’t be asked for your password or to do anything. If you confirm you didn’t make a purchase a real bank will cancel your card, or just remove that transaction.
Remember, the way this scam works is to get you to panic. In fact, most scams work the same way: They want you to act without thinking. So do many email scams: You get an email message from your boss saying the company has to move fast to close a deal, so please wire company funds to this account. Or the head of the company suddenly needs a list of employees, their birth dates and social insurance numbers for tax purposes.
Interestingly, victims often get these emails on a Friday or a Monday.
If you get an email like this check with your supervisor. Don’t phone a number in the email. Don’t email your boss asking for confirmation.
One other thing: Telling potential victims not to trust their bank, their relatives or their friends is another tip-off this is a scam. In one recent case a Toronto woman was tricked into spending thousands of dollars on gift cards to supposedly help police capture bank employees in a fraud. She was told not to trust the employees at her bank. The victim did as she was told and bought particular pre-paid gift cards at stores. She gave the numbers on the cards to the scammer, who cashed them in. The victim lost everything she spent because she trusted a stranger on the phone. No one from the police or a bank will ask you to use your money to help them catch a thief.
One other thing: Both people in the scams I mentioned were over 65. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Crooks target older people. I know of two cases where older women were targeted with phone calls from someone sobbing and claiming to be their granddaughter.
On Monday’s podcast I’ll have more about how crooks trick employees into buying pre-paid gift cards for seemingly innocent reasons like Christmas, birthdays or other excuses.
Thanks for listening this morning. Remember later today the Week in Review edition will be available. David Shipley of Beauceron Security and I will discuss words of wisdom security experts leave on Twitter.
You can follow Cyber Security Today on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or add us to your Flash Briefing on your smart speaker. Catch you later. I’m Howard Solomon