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Here's what would happen if you press 1 to claim a free vacation

Sault Ste. Marie and everyone in the 705 area code is currently being blanketed with calls from an automated system saying they have won a free vacation from Shopper's Drug Mart.

Sault Ste. Marie and everyone in the 705 area code is currently being blanketed with calls from an automated system saying they have won a free vacation from Shopper's Drug Mart. 

In this scheme, the message tells people to press 1 on their phone to claim their prize.

From Saturday, July 13 to Friday, August 9 Shoppers Drug Mart was running a dream summer vacation promotion in which shoppers could receive a ballot to win a vacation with certain purchases in the store but the calls people in the 705 area code are currently receiving have nothing to do with Shopper's Drug Mart, says senior call taker supervisor for the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre Daniel Williams.

"If you won a prize the people you won it from would be calling you directly, not using an automated calling system to contact you," he said.

If someone presses 1 to claim the prize they are switched to a vacation marketing company and someone tries to sell them a vacation.

"It's certainly not a free vacation," says Williams. "Based on what victims of this scheme tell us, it's not the worst deal possible but it's not a great deal by any means."

People who decide to take one of the offers made to them would end up using a credit card to pay a deposit anywhere from $400 to $1,000 for a vacation that is real but is probably not a very good deal for a number of reasons.

Pressing 1 also makes your number a ripe target for telephone marketing at the time of day that the call was completed and guarantees you will get a lot more telemarketers calling at that time of day, says Williams.

What pressing 1 isn't doing is giving the caller authority to bill their number for 900 calls, he adds.

What's happening in this scheme is that a telemarketing company located anywhere in the world is using devices and software to sequentially call every number in an area code with a phony claim that the person they are calling has won a prize.

They are calling police, fire, ambulance and business lines as well as private cell phone numbers and unlisted phone numbers because the auto dialer is dialing numbers in sequence, not from any lists.

If the person on the end of the line responds by pressing 1 that person is either switched to an agent who tries to sell the person a vacation package or to dead air.

If asked about their association with Shoppers Drug Mart or what ever company name the telemarketing company used to get people to press 1 the travel agent on the phone will usually say their company contracts out the telemarketing to another company and hopes their is no deception on the part of the telemarketing company as it tries to bring as many people to the travel agents as possible.

Sometimes people get dead air when they press 1 because there are not enough agents available to answer all the calls that are being switched so the calls may be dropped.  

The calls appear to have come from within the area code the company is working on but that in itself is a deception. 

The telemarketers are using caller ID spoofing technology to make it appear that the call is local and more likely that a target will pick up the call.

"They know that many consumers are less likely to pick up a call from a blocked number or a number from a strange area code," says Williams.

Ironically, Williams says people programming the caller ID spoofing program will sometimes use the phone number of someone who has bought a vacation through the scheme but more often they just select any number from the area code to appear on caller ID. 

Caller ID spoofing can make a call appear to have come from any phone number the caller wishes and for as long as the caller wants that number to be displayed.

Williams says people using this technology usually use a number for a set number of calls, say 1,000 or so, to prevent potential targets from getting wise to the scheme. 

The number is usually changed fairly frequently, though.

While a number is being displayed on the caller ID it causes a lot of problems for people that number belongs to when people call the number back to see if the deal is for real.

"We see people changing their numbers," says Williams. 

The upside is that it usually doesn't last for long.

"We've seen them go through an area code in about three weeks," he says.

Williams says that, if you feel you have been the victim of fraud in this or any of the other telephone, internet or mail schemes that continue every day you should first call the police and make a report then report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

If you've given your credit card number to the agent, make sure you check your statement carefully to make sure you aren't charged more than you agreed to pay or you haven't been charged for products or services you never purchased.

Any charges not authorized by the card holder, for products or services not received or that are significantly different from what the vendor claimed they would be can be disputed with the credit card company.

He says people who are considering offers of vacation deals should ask for something in writing, compare the offer to others that may be available online or through their local travel agencies and then decide if they want to take a chance on the offer.

Even if the offer is legitimate it may not be the best deal available on a vacation and it will guarantee you a lot more calls from telemarketers who are not bound by Canadian laws because they are not likely to be located in Canada.

"They like to put some distance and a border between the call centre and its targets," says Williams. "It's a world wide problem. We see call centres in Canada targeting people in Australia, centres in India or Bangladesh targeting Canada and back and forth between Canada and the USA."

All the schemes and scams coming from call centres around the world are keeping the people at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre busy.

"We're never waiting for a call," says Williams. 

Another common scheme that is keeping them busy is the Microsoft scheme.

A telemarketer will call claiming to be from Microsoft or a company subcontracted by Microsoft.

The caller says viruses have been detected on the target's computer and they can remove them if they allow one of their technicians to remotely access the computer.

"If you've allowed them access you should assume that every file in your computer has been copied and read," says Williams. "Change all your passwords and login names, especially to sensitive financial information and closely monitor your credit card and bank account activity after that. Check your Equifax and Trans Union reports to make sure there is no suspicious activity under your name. Be vigilant."

He said that, so far, he hasn't seen people charged more than they authorize these callers to charge on their credit cards but there are a lot more dangers in this scheme than being over charged on a credit card.

Keyloggers can be installed and remote access points opened on target's computers leaving them vulnerable to a host of dangers.

With a keylogger, a program that monitors what keys are struck on the keyboard, a person anywhere in the world can see what the target is typing, including login names and passwords as well as bank account numbers and websites visited.

With remote access someone anywhere in the world can use your computer for what ever they want, including pornography downloading, dissemination of hate material and denial of service attacks on other computers.

Typically the technician will do things that make it look like the system is not working properly.

They can do this by displaying alarming messages, slowing the computer down, redirecting internet navigation or restarting the computer then demand payment to resolve the "problem".

It is also possible for Trojan software, which gains privileged access to the operating system while appearing to perform a desirable function, to be installed to recruit the machine to a botnet, or hacked.

A botnet is a collection of internet-connected programs communicating with other similar programs in order to perform tasks.

Those tasks could include sending spam email, downloading private or copyrighted information or pornography from other computers or doing the dirty work for a hacker.

"We sometimes see computers being used remotely to find more targets," says Williams. 

If you've allowed someone suspicious to remotely access your computer and you see it slow down or do some odd things like access the internet when you aren't it may be time for some professional help with it.