19 May, 2020

Dealing With Robocalls

Infamous as the automated messages you get on your phone, robocalls range from providing valuable information to being criminal in nature. Here are tips to help you with fraudulent robocalls.


Recognizing a scam

The term “robocall” is often associated with its negative connotation, of the so-called “spam” calls ranging from nuisances to outright illegal activities. An example of the latter are the robocalls many Canadians get that claim to be from the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) but are in fact criminal enterprises attempting to gain an illicit payment or valuable personal information. In 2019, more than 2.1 billion spam calls were made in Canada, with the average Canadian receiving about six unwanted calls a month.1


Here are some important things to keep in mind about fraudulent robocalls:

  • Your call display can be a useful way of manually screening out calls. However, it is not 100% foolproof, as many illicit callers use technology to disguise their phone number as coming from a local area code. This practice is known as “spoofing.”
  • Canadian governments do not use robocalls to inform citizens of critical problems with their taxes, immigration status or other serious issues.
  • Canadian governments, financial institutions and most legitimate businesses do not ask for or receive payments through prepaid credit cards, gift cards, cryptocurrency (e.g., bitcoin) or money transfers negotiated over the telephone.


Scams in the COVID-19 era

Sadly, in addition to the massive human and economic cost of the novel coronavirus pandemic, some fraudsters have adopted new schemes to take advantage of people’s fears. Here are some of the newest scams:

  • Fraudsters claim to be from a public health authority, stating that you have or are at risk of COVID-19 and that you must give them personal or financial information to obtain medication.
  • You are offered unproven drugs or other false treatments for COVID-19. The fraudster then attempts to gain your credit card numbers, government health card information or other important personal data.
  • You receive offers for unproven household products, appliances or cleaning services purporting to stop the disease’s spread, with the fraudster again attempting to gain your credit card numbers and other personal information.
  • Fraudsters claim to represent charities asking for donations. If you wish to donate to a recognized charity, a better way is to ignore phone solicitations and go straight to the legitimate websites of these organizations.


How to respond to robocalls

Here are some ways to deal with unwanted robocalls:

  • As previously mentioned, use your call display to avoid answering calls that appear to be from someone you don’t know, an unfamiliar area code or a corporate business you don’t immediately recognize. If someone is trying to reach you for a legitimate reason, they can leave a voice message.
  • Hanging up can be your default option. Even if you recognize that the robocall is a scam, don’t attempt to engage with the call in any way (such as pressing any numbers on your phone or responding verbally to any prompt). Even a simple verbal cue (such as saying “yes” to anything) can be used against you.2
  • Do not use the callback numbers provided in a robocall. If you feel there is a chance the robocall is legitimate, look up the organization’s name through a trusted source. Wait at least an hour from the time of the robocall, or use a different phone and make the call using this trusted number.


The National Do Not Call List (“DNCL”)

The federal government established the DNCL approximately 15 years ago to help protect Canadian consumers from unwanted or illicit telemarketing and/or robocalls. This method has proven popular, with more than 13 million numbers registered by Canadians by the end of last year.3 However, there are a few things to keep in mind about the DNCL:

  • Firms who contact Canadian consumers on the DNCL risk fines, but the law does not extend to registered charities, political parties, businesses with which you have an existing relationship and other qualifications.
  • Many robocalls come from overseas parties who consider themselves beyond the reach of Canadian law.
  • There is some evidence that suggests the DNCL can serve as a list of active phone numbers for spam callers.4


The Canadian government has made recent progress with other countries in stemming fraudulent and nuisance calls. So, while the DNCL is not 100% foolproof, it has helped and continues to help reduce spam robocalls for many Canadians.


If you feel you’ve been a victim of a fraudulent robocall, your options include contacting your local police force, registering with the National Do Not Call list and/or contacting the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1.888.495.8501.


1. “Hiya Finds 2.1 Billion Spam Calls made in Canada in 2019; Up 49% YOY,” hiya.com, December 2019.

2. Sophie Nicholls Jones, “Watch out for (and protect yourself from) these 3 sophisticated phone scams,” Chartered Professional Accountants Canada, November 2018.

3. Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, Answering the Call: Building a Safe, Convenient Telemarketing Environment for Canadians: 2018–19 CRTC Annual Report on the Operation of the National Do Not Call List, September 30, 2019.

4. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Offshore telemarketers defy Canada's do-not-call list, January 2013.