This March marks the 15th edition Fraud Prevention Month in Canada, dedicated to educating and increasing awareness among Canadians on how to recognize different types of fraud, how to avoid attempts and report incidents if they become victims.
Just last year, Canadians lost $98 million dollars to fraudulent activity according to the Canadian government’s Anti-Fraud Centre. While stereotypical scams still exist––CRA scam calls––fraudulent methods have evolved and have become more difficult for victims to steer clear of.
Jeffrey Thomson, a senior intelligence analyst for the RCMP, said the biggest change in scams targeting Canadians over the years is their direct approach.
“It used to be they’re trying to trick them into sending money and trick them into, you know, congratulations you’ve won a prize, or whatever the con was but today its just, you owe back taxes and if you don’t pay right away you’re going to be arrested and charged, fined, deported,” said Thomson.
In 2019, the top reported form of fraud was extortion, where information or money is urgently demanded through scare tactics like threats and blackmailing. CRA tax scams through illicit phone calls are still a nuisance throughout Canada, but new methods involve holding a person’s personal data against them.
Scammers use methods such as hacking a person’s webcam and recording them visiting explicit websites or doing something personal. This can include emailing pictures of personal data including SIN numbers or old email passwords, or locking a person out of their own email.
Thomson said it is important to recognize the variety of forms in which these types of fraud can occur, specifying: “over the phone, internet, social networking, email, text messaging – just over the internet through fake websites.”
“Anytime you get an unsolicited call, text message, email, whatever it might be, that’s requesting personal or financial information, and requesting to make the payment in an urgent nature, you got to take a step back, you got to stop, you got to think about it, don’t react, don’t pay, don’t provide the information, do your due diligence, and then report,” said Thomson.
Thomson also said that victims of fraudulent messages can call the police, who can redirect them to a contact for help. The type of information being used to threaten the victim will determine what institution they will need to contact—such as, if a SIN number has been stolen, Service Canada must be contacted for help.
Kata Rados spoke at the Montreal Fraud Prevention Month launched by the Competition Bureau of Canada about popular modern scams that target Millenials and Gen-X. Rados, the Assistant Deputy Commissioner for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, highlighted how social media has become a popular tool for fraud.
An example Rados used was health marketing scams: “scammers sometimes offer what appear to be legitimate alternative medicines and treatments that quickly and easily treat serious conditions–often endorsed by celebrities or sham testimonials.”
Rados said that sometimes people’s insecurities can entice them to share personal information and to buy an item from a sponsored post on social media. Before making the purchase, she recommended being vigilant with online offers. Taking the time to check if the company is legitimate and has good reviews, is one way to not fall into a trap.
For Jessie Arens, a second-year honours English literature student at Concordia, it was wanting to save money on clothes that made her the victim of a scam. She first saw a clothing company advertisement on Facebook. After reading some reviews and seeing videos about the company, she decided to make her first purchase.
She paid to receive items in a week, but after 4 weeks, her items hadn’t even been shipped. Fortunately, after a dozen emails and several calls, Arens was able to receive a refund for her $75 purchase.
She says the website looked legitimate, adding that “there were a ton of amazing reviews, which I found out after much digging were fake reviews. Other website and Facebook comments warned against ordering from them and described similar experiences to mine.”
The Competition Bureau has information on how to spot potential fraud in their free online book Little Black Book of Scams, available through their website.
Graphic by @sundaeghost