'No longer my phone': Windsor resident at wit's end after spam callers spoof number

A Windsor resident who asked spammers to add her number to a do-not-call-list says she's received over 500 phone calls and more than 100 text messages after spammers decided to spoof her number instead.

Kyla Bardwell said spammers called her sometime last week to offer air duct cleaning services — which she doesn't need because she lives in a condominium.  

She asked to be placed on a do-not-call-list, and thought the matter was resolved.

On Dec. 12, however, Bardwell said she began to be inundated with phone calls and text messages from sometimes irate callers questioning why her number was connected to telemarketers.

"I don't know if they retaliated with this, but [the spammers] started calling people using my [number]," she said. 

Her concerns were heightened when one of her coworkers received a spam call from telemarketers using Bardwell's number.

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"I picked up … and it wasn't [Bardwell]," said Kim Faulkner. "It was a man's voice … they said air duct cleaning services. I hung up because I've gotten calls from them many times — I just hang up, I don't have the patience or the time to deal with them."

Bardwell, a Fido subscriber, contacted her wireless service provider, but was told that there was little they could do.

"Really all I can do about this is change my number, from what my provider tells me," she said. "My number is so easy, and I've had it for years. To change it, it's more of a sentimental thing and everyone knows my number."

She also contacted Windsor police, who told Bardwell that she would have to file a civil suit if she wanted work towards a solution.

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"A civil suit against who?" said Bardwell. "Who is air duct cleaning services? I'm sure it's not a legitimate company, I'm sure it's a scam. So who do I file a suit against?"

Bardwell said she's beyond frustrated, saying it feels like her device is "no longer my phone."

CBC News contacted Rogers — the parent company that owns the Fido wireless flanker brand — for comment.

A spokesperson for the company said Rogers knows "receiving unwanted calls is frustrating for our customers, and we are working with the [Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)] and industry partners to implement steps to reduce them."

Counteracting spam and spoof calls an 'arms war,' says consumer advocate

John Lawford, executive director and general counsel of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), explained that spammers are able to easily spoof calls by adding existing numbers to a server and using Voice over IP (VoIP) technology to mimic the number.

"They just want to sit behind a computer somewhere in a basement and just run 10 servers doing this stuff," he said. "You can do many thousands of calls more a minute on IP."

Lawford likened the back-and-forth between spammers and telecom services providers to an "arms war."

"We just kind of have to wait," he said. "I don't have a lot of other practical tips."

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And though Canadians can ask to be placed on a do not call list, Lawford said that list only works if telemarketing companies follow the rules.

"You won't get solicitations from companies that are playing by the rules … but it doesn't help for foreign-based spoofers or even Canadian-based spoofers that have no intention of following the do not call list," he said.

As for Bardwell, Lawford said her only real option is to change her number. 

Otherwise, "[she has] got nothing she can do," Lawford said. 

CRTC wants Canadian telecoms to implement better protections

As an agency, the CRTC has taken steps to combat spam and spoofed calls, to varying effect.

In December 2018, the country's telecom watchdog gave Canadians carriers and other telecommunications service providers 12 months to implement universal network-level call block.

That directive comes into force on Dec. 19, and carriers have already begun to inform subscribers about the universal call blocking regime. 

More recently, on Dec. 9, the CRTC issued an order to Canadian telecoms giving them until Sept. 30, 2020 to implement an anti-spoofing measure known by the acronym STIR/SHAKEN (Secure Telephone Identity Revisited/Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using Tokens).

Once the technology is adopted and goes live, it will allow users to determine whether a call received through a mobile phone or voice over IP system has been verified. 

Lawford said if STIR/SHAKEN protocols work, "it will flag 99.9 per cent of [spoof calls]."