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Phone companies must block scam calls starting today. Here's what you can expect

Starting today, Rogers, Bell and other telecommunications providers in Canada will have to implement systems that help block scammers from calling you. But it doesn’t cover all fraudulent calls. Here’s what you need to know.

Spoofed numbers won't be stopped until at least next Sept. 30

Starting Dec. 19, telecom providers in Canada will be required to block certain types of unsolicited and illegitimate calls from reaching customers. (Martin Mejia/The Associated Press)

Sick of threatening calls from the "Canada Revenue Agency" and sketchy offers for duct cleaning?

Starting today, Rogers, Bell, and other telecommunications providers in Canada must implement systems that help block scammers from calling you. But it doesn't cover all fraudulent calls. Here's what you need to know.

Why do telecom companies need to put in a new call-blocking system?

Canada's telecommunications regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, says it wants Canadians to be better protected against "nuisance" calls that are unsolicited and illegitimate

Some Canadians say they're getting such calls several times a day. 

The calls aren't just annoying: many are costly scams. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, phone scams bilked Canadians out of an estimated $24 million between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, 2019.

What's the technology that needs to be implemented on Dec. 19?

It's a system that automatically blocks calls that show up on caller identification systems as: 

  • Numbers with more than 15 digits.
  • Numbers that can't be dialled (such as a string of letters or 000-000-0000).

Calls from those types of numbers will no longer make your phone ring.

Challenge for call-blocking system is ensuring real calls go through 0:50

Do all telecommunications companies need to put that in?

No. As an alternative, they can offer subscribers "filtering services" that provide more advanced call-management features, which is what Telus is doing for its wireless customers.

Rogers and Bell will be implementing the call blocking technology.

How much of an impact will this kind of call blocking have?

Robert Ghiz, president of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, which represents the wireless industry, says he expects a "massive decline" in unwanted calls.

But Jeff Thomson, senior intelligence analyst at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, isn't so sure. "It will have an impact on some of the fraud operations out there," he added, "but how much remains to be seen."

Will this call blocking technology eliminate all calls from scammers?

No. It will only block calls from blatantly fake numbers. 

Many calls are made by fraudsters "spoofing" real numbers — that is, the number that shows up in the caller ID is a real number that belongs to a legitimate person or organization — such as federal government departments or the police. The fraudster isn't really calling from that number, but has disguised his or her number as someone else's. 

When will telecoms have to do something about spoof calls?

By Sept. 30, 2020. That's when telecommunications companies need to implement technology that will allow customers to see if the origin and identity of calls they receive via a mobile phone or voice-over-IP systems have been verified.

The CRTC is also working with telecom companies to trace nuisance calls back to their point of origin.

The new call-blocking systems will target calls with caller identification information that either exceeds 15 digits or doesn't conform to a number you can call back. (David Bell/CBC)

Will that eliminate phone scams?

Probably not, Ghiz suspects.

"There's always scammers trying to find new ways to infiltrate and take advantage of consumers out there," he says. "There's always going to be new mechanisms that we're going to have to put in place to deal with these things."

He adds that this isn't unique to the wireless industry.

How can you tell if a call is a scam?

According to Jeff Thomson at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, there are several red flags that suggest a call is a scam:

  • When you pick up, you hear an automated voice or message, which may ask to you press a button on your phone.
  • The caller is authoritative, demanding, and possibly threatening.
  • The caller demands personal information or financial information.
  • The caller asks for money, usually in the form of bitcoin or gift cards.

What should you do if you get a call you suspect is a scam?

"Hang up," Thomson says. "Don't provide personal information on the phone."

Both Ghiz and Thomson also suggest that people report scams and fraudulent activity to the proper authorities, such as the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

"If you don't report," Thomson said, "we don't know what's happening, and that's really a key piece."

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story suggested calling a suspected scam number back or asking the caller for a number where they can be reached, but this did not account for other risks that could be associated with doing so.
    Dec 19, 2019 2:20 PM ET

With files from Melanie Glanz

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