Telecom companies moving to block spoofed calls

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Canada’s telecom companies are rolling out new call-blocking technologies they say could reduce the number of phone calls Canadians get from scam artists.

The move comes in response to a directive from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which gave them until December 19 to take action to reduce the number of nuisance calls getting through to Canadians.

Bell Canada and Rogers have been working on the problem and say they expect to meet the deadline set by the CRTC.

“We’re testing the new universal network-level call blocking technology on our network and will be ready for full implementation by the CRTC’s deadline,” said Nathan Gibson, spokesman for Bell Canada. “We’ve also applied to the CRTC to conduct a 90-day trial of new call blocking technologies we’re developing to further protect customers from fraudulent and scam calls.”

Bill Killorn, spokesman for Rogers Communications, said the company has started implementing Universal Call Blocking, which will stop incoming calls that don’t correspond to North American or international numbering systems.

“We know receiving unwanted calls is frustrating for our customers, and we are working with the CRTC and industry partners to implement steps to reduce them,” he said.

Telus is opting for call filtering, said company spokeswoman Brandi Rees.

“Last year, Telus was the first major carrier in Canada to offer a call filtering service for our home phone customers that blocks most robocalls,” she said. “In the coming weeks, Telus will introduce this free feature to our wireless customers nationally.”

The comments come after CBC News reported that scam artists have been spoofing the phone numbers of more than a dozen federal government departments, making it appear that calls are coming from legitimate government departments, agencies and law courts.

Some of the calls advise potential victims that their social insurance numbers have been compromised. Others are told that they owe the government money and are in legal trouble.

To deceive potential victims who examine the numbers on incoming calls, the scammers “spoof” their calls so that they display the phone numbers of the relevant federal government departments. In many cases, a scammer tells a victim they will be getting a call from a police officer — then spoofs the call that comes in a few minutes later so that it appears to be coming from local police.

An earlier version of the scam, in which callers pose as officials from the Canada Revenue Agency, has defrauded Canadians of more than $16.7 million since 2014.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Agency says it’s been flooded by calls from Canadians reporting scammers spoofing the phone numbers of several federal government departments.

The calls are also affecting the government’s ability to provide service to Canadians. Officials in offices like the Canada Revenue Agency and Service Canada are being bogged down by people phoning to check on the legitimacy of the calls they’ve received, resulting in longer waits for service.

Eric Rancourt, spokesman for the CRTC, said there are plans to go even further in blocking spoofed and nuisance calls.

He said a protocol is being developed, called STIR/SHAKEN (Secure Telephone Identity Revisited/Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using Tokens), that would allow phone companies to confirm the identities of callers and assure consumers that calls are coming from a legitimate party.

“The CRTC is currently exploring the feasibility of having Canadian telecom service providers implement these protocols,” said Rancourt.

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca