Saskatchewan

Sask. residents see influx of calls from foreign countries; experts warn not to call back

Many Saskatchewan residents are experiencing an influx of robocalls from foreign countries. As you might suspect, it's a scam. 

Police, SaskTel and tech experts say the calls are a scam

Saskatchewan residents have reported receiving a high number of 'robocalls' from foreign countries recently. (CBC)

Many Saskatchewan residents are experiencing an influx of "robocalls" from foreign countries.

As you might suspect, it's a scam. 

For those getting the calls, the phone rings just once. Call display will show a number from a range of different countries, including Liberia, Latvia and even Madagascar. If you pick up the phone, no one answers on the other end. 

Some people have reported getting up to 20 such calls a day. They've become so frequent that Regina police issued a warning via Facebook on Tuesday. 

"Please ignore the calls and block the numbers. Do not call the number back," the police service said.

"There is no need to report to police at this time. Phone service providers are monitoring the situation and taking steps to block the calls."

Saskatoon police also said there is nothing they can do about the scam. 

This particular method is called the Wangiri scam, according to U.K. technology journalist Matthew Hughes. Wangiri scams originated in Japan, and the term is Japanese for "one [ring] and cut."

"Effectively, the scam preys on human curiosity. You get a call from a number, you want to know what it is, so you call back. Now you're effectively calling a premium-rate phone number in another country that doesn't really regulate its telecomms industry and doesn't really have very good protections against this type of scam," said Hughes. 

Once your call is routed to an expensive premium-rate number, Hughes says you are coerced into staying on the line for as long as possible, which can be very costly. 

"The exact cost varies because, of course, we're talking about premium-rate phone numbers in different countries.… It's not unheard of to see people being charged hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. The exact amount depends on the origin of the call and also how long the person stays on the line for," Hughes said.

Matthew Hughes is a consumer, tech and mobile reporter for The Register, a British technology news site. (Submitted by Matthew Hughes)

Right now, Wangiri scammers are targeting Saskatchewan numbers with the 306 area code. But SaskTel says the scam is a national issue. 

"We're monitoring the situation because these scammers are updating their tactics relatively frequently," said Greg Jacobs, external communications manager for SaskTel. 

"As they are starting to call from different international locations, we're doing what we can to block traffic from those locations so that they're not reaching our customers."

Steps to fight fraud

Jacobs says if you pick up the phone when one of these scammers is calling, you should hang up immediately. SaskTel says the majority of nuisance calls, including scams, are generated by computer-dialers that enable spammers to dial multiple numbers at once.

Meanwhile, Hughes says that "one-ring calls" tend to come and go in waves.

"You might get a lot in a short amount of time and then nothing at all. And then a flood will spring up once again."

He says this depends on who is actually performing the scam. There are multiple different groups of scammers.  

"Firstly, there are databases of phone numbers from leaked websites and other records they can obtain, and they can just buy them," he said.

Another approach is what he calls "brute force" calling.

"[They] dial phone numbers until they find one that works, and then that gets added to a list of numbers that they can then target."

Saskatchewan residents are receiving spam calls in droves from countries like Liberia, Guyana, Tajikistan and Moldova. (CBC)

To be proactive, Hughes suggests entering your phone number into the website Have I Been Pwned to see if you have had a data breach. He says people often get scam calls because they have not changed their phone numbers in a long time. 

Hughes also says concerned residents can call their phone service providers and request a cap on the amount of money the phone user can spend out of their plan. 

SaskTel says scam calls can be reported to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre on their website or by phone at 1-888-495-8501.

If you think you were the victim of a crime as a result of a scam call, you should contact either the RCMP or your local police service. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan. She is also the community reporter for CBC's virtual road trip series Land of Living Stories. Laura previously worked for CBC Vancouver. Some of her former work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, NYLON Magazine, VICE Canada and The Tyee. She holds a Master of Journalism degree from the University of British Columbia. Follow Laura on Twitter: @MeLaura. Send her news tips at laura.sciarpelletti@cbc.ca

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