Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

What a phone scam sounds like

Hearing messages like the one in this post annoys me. Before I go into my bullet-pointed rant, click the link below to listen to a 40-second recording I made of a voice mail message early this spring (my apologies for the rough audio quality, but it is all understandable):


The phone number is  quoted twice in the message. It’s been used before to attempt to scam people. It reminds me of spam emails that attempt to get me to click things I shouldn’t. It may well be used again, for all the protection consumers have against electronically enabled scams.

There’s a theory floating about that seasoned scammers design their ploys so that only the naïve would fall for them. That might not be a large percentage of the population, but if it was an unprofitably small segment, scams like these would not keep coming.

Useless government actions

Consumer protection against scams like this has been hobbled for the past decade or so in Canada. Why? Canadians have been subjected to rule by a party that has wasted time and money to ineffectively flail at technology issues. (Ironically, this wasteful party calls itself “Conservative.” I don’t know what this party conserves, but it certainly isn’t taxpayer dollars.)

During its term in power, this party has enacted:

  • a do-not-call list that seems to have resulted in more unwanted phone solicitation (I don’t bother picking up my phone when it rings unless I recognize the number.)
  • anti-spam legislation that has done next to nothing to stem the tide of email spam

Given the actions it took, this (thankfully former) Conservative government seemed to think scammers and other “nuisances” who targeted Canadians had to operate within Canada. They probably also haven’t heard of voice over IP (VoIP) or the world wide web. Both initiatives amount to nothing more than sticking a finger in a mile-high dam full of leaks.

Recognizing scams

True consumer protection must be built on consistent, ingenious and quickly adaptable international cooperation. Until that happens, people with phone numbers or email addresses are on their own.

Fortunately, as I wrote above, most scammers seem to target the general public, in bulk, and only those of us naïve enough to click where we shouldn’t or return phone messages we should ignore.

Consider these tips to protect yourself:

  1. Listen carefully to voice messages you receive. Does the caller give no specifics? Is the voice computer-generated? Is the tone intimidating?
  2. Challenge callers if you have them on the phone. Ask them for names, numbers, email addresses, and then go into details that you could use to trip them up. And if they sound intimidating, challenge them right back.
  3. If you think the matter is serious enough, record the call. (I don’t usually record messages, but the message I embedded in this blog post sparked the idea for the blog post, so…)
  4. Search the Internet for the phone number (presuming it isn’t blocked from your Caller ID). It seems like entire websites are devoted to complaints about numbers used by telemarketers and spammers. Should the top 3 to 6 search results be sites like these, you can disregard the call.

Don’t forget to handle email with care too. Keep spam from cluttering your inbox. (Too bad there’s no equally easy way to block scam or marketing calls.) Sometimes phone messages slip through spam filters. If they do, practice healthy skepticism.

Whatever else you do, prevent as may of these messages as possible and don’t spend more time than is absolutely necessary thinking about scams, however they arrive. Life is too short.

How do you deal with phone scams? Let us know in the comments below.