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Prince George, BC, August 21, 2014 -- A phone scam that is becoming all too familiar to Prince George residents is once again making the rounds.
When a local woman answered her phone Wednesday, a recorded voice told her she may have won a trip to Mexico from Westjet and all she had to do was press one.
Suspicious that it was a scammer trying to get her personal information, she hung up. But the only reason she answered the call in the first place was because her call display showed it was from a local number.
Her next move was to call that number to give the person the heads up. As it turned out, it was a for a cellphone owned by Prince George Citizen reporter Arthur Williams and, when he got the call, it set off some alarm bells for him as well.
In particular, Williams worried that the scammer could be using his cellphone minutes to contact potential victims or somehow finding a way to access his own personal information.
But Telus spokesman Shawn Hall said that is not a problem because not only are the phone numbers called randomly generated but so are the ones used to mask the source.
He said scammers can subscribe to a service that changes the caller identification that is sent out with the calls, a tactic called spoofing. "In our view, it should be illegal and controlled," Hall said.
Westjet spokesman Robert Palmer confirmed that the airline is in no way involved in the ploy but it has been giving the company headaches for about five years now with no sign of it ending.
He said the source is a vacation company in Mexico that goes by a couple of different names and has been using the names of Canadian companies to convince the people it calls that it has some legitimacy.
"We have no relation, no affiliation, quite the opposite," Palmer said. "We don't use telemarketers, we don't share people's personal information with third parties and we don't make these sorts of phone calls."
Because the source is out-of-country, Palmer said Westjet has had trouble convincing the source to cease and desist from using the airline's name. For years, Westjet has had a warning posted in the travel advisory section of its website and has issued several media releases but it still gives the company headaches on a periodic basis.
Palmer said he posted probably 15 alerts to social media about the scam on Wednesday whereas a month ago there was no trouble, possibly because another region was being targeted with the use of a different name.
"It ebbs and flows," Palmer said.
It's not the first time something like this has struck Prince George. In April, locals were getting calls saying they had just won a gift card from Pine Centre Mall. Those who pressed one were connected with a call centre that then tried to get personal information under the pretense of winning a vacation in Mexico.
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The scam sent mall manager Sonya Hunt scrambling as she spent much of the day assuring people that it was not what it seemed to be and that Pine Centre had nothing to do with it.
Prince George RCMP Cpl. Craig Douglass said there is not much local police can do because the source is based in Mexico. He suggested those who receive suspicious calls simply err on the sign of caution and hang up.
"If it's too good to be true, it probably is," he said.
More information on various types of scams can be found at www.antifraudcentre.ca.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Monday, August 25, 2014
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