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Spam phone calls in Cantonese, Mandarin surging in B.C., says poll

Seven in 10 Metro Vancouverites received one of these unwanted messages in the past two months, reveals Research Co.
The number of British Columbians reporting having received spam phone calls in Cantonese or Mandarin has jumped by eight points over the past two years, according to polling from Research Co.

Every couple of years, Research Co. and Glacier Media review the issue of phone spam.

At a time when British Columbians rely on their mobile phones more than ever, for work and to remain in touch with friends and family, our survey’s findings amount to a mixed bag. In 2023, one of the nuisances that we track remained stable, another seems to be on the decline, and a third is rising dramatically.

Canadians may believe they are completely protected from unwanted phone calls and messages if they include their number in the National Do Not Call List (DNCL).

A number’s presence on this database can certainly stop solicitation from companies, but it cannot help in the event of foreign entities dialing numbers at random and looking for an opportunity to profit.

Charities, political parties, polling firms and newspapers are also allowed to dial any number they want.

We are nowhere near an election in British Columbia or Canada, but that has not resulted in the complete disappearance of text messages sent by unknown individuals asking residents of the province if they support a specific party or policy.

Across the province, 18 per cent of British Columbians (unchanged since late 2021) received this type of message over the past two months – a proportion that rises to 23 per cent in southern B.C. and 25 per cent in the Fraser Valley.

These messages are primarily used as a barometer for future engagement.

The senders identify themselves with a first name and ask a simple “Yes” or “No” question. Those who reply, regardless of the context of their answer, would usually be asked to confirm their postal code. Replying “Stop” should remove a recipient from the internal database.

There is another type of communication that can be potentially devastating. More than two in five British Columbians (42 per cent, down eight points) have received phone calls and/or phone messages from an individual purporting to represent a government agency, such as the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), over the past two months.

The federal government has consistently reminded the country’s residents that the CRA will never deal with collections through direct phone calls that ask for your personal information, but more than two in five British Columbians continue to be targeted.

Many of these phone calls come from numbers registered outside of Canada, making prosecution for violations of the DNCL or Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) next to impossible. The fines – up to $1,500 per DNCL violation and up to $1 million per CASL violation – are not a deterrent for individuals who cannot be found.

The biggest hindrance continues to be in the form of phone calls and/or phone messages where an individual speaks Cantonese or Mandarin. Practically three in five British Columbians (59 per cent) received these phone calls or messages over the past two months, up eight points since 2021.

In stark contrast to political engagement and the CRA scam, the phone spam in Cantonese and Mandarin is more geographical. While only 27 per cent of residents of northern B.C. have received these messages or calls, the proportion grows to 42 per cent in southern B.C., 45 per cent in Vancouver Island, 55 per cent in the Fraser Valley and 69 per cent in Metro Vancouver. This is not a particularly welcome statistic – practically seven in ten Metro Vancouverites reached for their phone and encountered one of these unwanted messages in the past two months.

The current tools appear to be working to reduce the number of phone calls where someone purports to be a federal government representative.

There is stability on unrequested political engagement, but we can expect the number of calls and messages to increase in a year that will feature a provincial election. For Lower Mainlanders, getting a phone call or message in Cantonese or Mandarin has become a common occurrence.

Aside from irritably deleting the unwanted messages from our voicemail, it is important to remember how to protect ourselves.

The first line of defence is only answering phone calls from people we know and reporting unsolicited phone messages to the Spam Reporting Centre. If information or money has been acquired by a scammer, the best option is to contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC).

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from December 8 to December 10, 2023, among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia. The margin of error—which measures sample variability—is +/- 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.