As a pretty security savvy IT person, “Yours Truly” was almost stung this morning.
I answered an incoming cell call from an Ontario phone number. Very quickly, a recorded message began with a North American digitized voice in perfect English telling me that I had 2 charges on my Visa card. One was for an e-Bay purchase of $400 and the other for a gift card purchase of $500. The voice told me that these were suspicious because I had never purchased gift cards with my Visa card before and I should press “1” to accept the charges or “2” to reject them.
What should I do? Press 1 or 2?
Let’s analyze this call for a moment:
- Scam calls are almost always made by an autodialer. An autodialer is a software program that initiates phone calls. The autodialer tries to time how long it takes for the average person to answer the phone before connecting them with an agent. Agents cost money so scammers don’t want the agent to wait for you to answer; they want you to wait for an agent. This is why you’re saying, “Hello…Hello?” into the phone before the caller actually responds. The quickness of today’s call surprised me and caught me off guard.
- Normally you end up talking to a real person (in much of the world human agents are still cheaper than computerized agents). Often this agent has a very accented digitized voice. This voice call was clear, pleasant, and made with a female voice. All things which help people to put their guards down.
- The call claimed to have knowledge of my purchase history. It’s true that I don’t buy gift cards online but that’s a calculated risk that the scammer made. Fortune tellers know this same trick. 70% of Canadians still only buy gift cards in store–what is known as a “card present transaction”–so claiming this bit of knowledge will cause less than 30% of people to become suspicious. It’s the same reason why the caller claimed to be from Visa (it’s the most popular credit card brand in Canada). It didn’t identify which bank it’s from (if it did, it would be RBC Visa since RBC is the largest bank in Canada but as a non-RBC customer I would have immediately hung up). By the way, only about 40% of Canadians have an RBC account; the scammer made the right choice by trying to impress me with the “gift card” angle instead of bank brand.
- I was then presented with a call to action: press 1 or 2. This seems innocent enough but now the victim is being guided down the kill chute at a slaughterhouse. Press either number and you’ve indicated that your committed to the call and want to engage with the caller. For most people who press either number, it won’t end well.
These scams are becoming more and more clever and believable. Each script will be different but the goal is the same–to part people from their money.
Are there any ways to recognize these scam calls more easily?
If the call had actually come from a Canadian bank or financial institution, or if the caller was a contact that I had in my contact list, I should have had a full call display screen listing the caller’s name or business (Please note: it is also possible to spoof Call Display data in Canada as well, but that’s another topic). Call Display works very differently between Canada and the USA. The fact that the caller (like in the picture above) is only displayed by their phone number and the geographic location of their area code (and sometimes the actual city of their area code or 3 digit exchange) indicates that the call did not originate in Canada. Americans receiving calls from Canada also don’t get full call display data.
So, this call did not originate in Canada, yet pretends to come from a Canadian credit card company. This should be an alarm bell when we get a call like this.
Phone numbers are “commodities” that cost pennies to buy and they can originate from anywhere. I regularly buy phone numbers for my clients so they can make and receive calls from other area codes. If you’re business is expanding to Saskatchewan or BC, let’s get you a 306, or 250 number so new customers feel that you’re local and responsive. Considering opening an office in the UK or Germany, we can buy you a +44 or +49 so you can build your sales network before opening a physical office. (No seriously, if this is where you’re business is going, let’s talk).
Oh, and if you’re asked to press “1” or “2”, remember that you always have a third choice: you can hang up.