Mystery man intercepts phone scam calls, saving Canadians millions

An Ontario man says he is working with an informant in India to thwart phone scams, and has stopped many would-be victims from handing over millions of dollars. Melissa Nakhavoly explains how he does it.

By Melissa Nakhavoly

A normal day for Devan* begins with him going to work at his tech job in Windsor.

While there, he receives several voice notes or text messages through WhatsApp from a man in India letting him know an unsuspecting Canadian is about to get robbed of thousands of dollars.

“Like many Americans and Canadians​, I get a phone call one day from a gentleman who reported to be from the Canada Revenue Agency, I knew right away it was a scam,” Devan said. “I’ve been around long enough to know. I engaged him for about half an hour and by the end of the conversation, I befriended him.”

That man now works closely with Devan as an informant. He tips him off whenever a victim is about to transfer money through a bank or Bitcoin transaction.

If he manages to stop the transaction from taking place, Devan said he pays his informant in India $100 for his help.

“He’d secretly send me phone numbers of victims that his colleagues were scamming and I would get involved by trying to intercept those calls with the call waiting features,” Devan explained.

Stopping fraudsters

Devan, who also has a side job as a private investigator, intercepts calls by sending text messages to victims while they’re on the phone with scammers. If that doesn’t work, he begins to relentlessly call victims until they pick up.

“They know immediately and my informant will tell me, ‘Hey they know you’re calling’,” Devan said. “They’re telling her not to pick up or she’ll be arrested. She must deal with this right away. So I continue to call relentlessly over and over and I have five phones that sit here in my office and I have changed the caller I.D. on several of them.”

Devan said as soon as he gets the tip, time is of the essence. He has anywhere between 10 minutes and two hours to get through to the victim before money is lost.

Getting law enforcement involved

There are times when Devan can’t do it alone and has to ask police to get involved.

At times, they refused. But, there were two occasions where he reached out to a Toronto police detective who worked alongside him to stop the scams from taking place.

The first was in Victoria, B.C. where a victim was about to deposit upwards of $60,000 to a Bitcoin machine. The second involved a young student in Toronto who almost lost her university tuition.

“A lot of these cases we hear from them after the fact,” Det. Michael Streng, with Toronto police’s financial crimes unit, said. “This one in particular was a compelling case because we were able to defend that. For me, it was a highlight day of my career.”

Decrease in victims of fraud

According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, by Oct. 31, 2019, Canadians had reported 19,123 telephone scams.

Of those reports, 4,163 are classified as victims with a total reported loss of $24.1 million.

In 2018, there were 39,847 reports of telephone scams with 4,855 of the reports classified as victims with a total reported loss of $29.8 million. While statistics show less people are falling victim to phone scams, it appears the number of calls coming through have increased.

Streng said technology can be partially to blame. “In terms of the incidents of phone calls, I think technology has allowed that to perpetuate and increase. We’re all getting a lot more phone calls, I believe, than what we would have gotten five years ago.”

Millions of dollars saved

Devan claims he has intercepted thousands of calls, saving Canadians about a million dollars collectively. But, every time he gets through to a potential victim, it’s the result of his actions that give his work true meaning.

“It’s like gambling. You get so addicted to it that you hear those people, the majority of them, when you hear them they’re pretty excited. When you think about what you have just done, especially this time of year, when you think you just put $30,000 back into someone’s bank account and it cost you $100 for that, that’s incredible.”

One moment in particular that was life-changing for Devan was when he received a tip that a woman was about to lose $96,000 in a scam. He managed to reach her in time. The woman sobbed and profusely thanked him for getting involved.

A WhatsApp conversation between Devan and his informant. CITYNEWS

Stop calling me

Devan and a small team of informants in India have launched a website and an app, hoping more people will rally together to put an end to this illegal activity.

The website is called It has a database where you can enter the number that you believe to be associated with a phone scam to be verified. If it’s a scam, it alerts the user. So far, there are more than 1,000 numbers in the database.

“If you were to receive a CRA number and you were to go to our website, and you were to put it in there … that would come immediately to my phone. As soon as that comes to my phone, I click on it and it dials that number. My first mission is to recruit the person on that other end — try to say, ‘hey listen we have a project, we can pay you.’ It’s to try and recruit people on the inside … that’s the only way we’re going to have a significant impact.”

Devan’s biggest tip for Canadians who want to avoid being scammed: He says if you pick up a call from a number that you do not recognize, wait until the person on the other end says hello first. If you don’t hear anything on the other end, it’s likely a scammer. Hang up and block the number in your phone.

*Name has been changed to conceal his identity

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