These days, there are more virtual options than ever that provide us with innovative ways to stay connected, learn, work and play. But with this rapid growth in everything from virtual hangouts to video call workouts to increases in online shopping for many of us, the number of scams targeting all our virtual and digital tools have increased as well. From fake online markets to automated calls and emails impersonating the Canada Revenue Agency, these scams are an attempt to obtain personal information and access to finances.
Cyber criminals are becoming savvier, which makes it more difficult to differentiate between a scam and a legitimate business practice these days. But understanding the basic principles that most scams operate on can help ensure your identity and your money – and the identity and money of your family members – stays safe.
Here are some tips on how to identify and avoid phishing attempts, and remember you can always contact your local credit union when in doubt.
Phishing = a tool used by criminals to steal personal and financial information. This can be an email that appears to come from a legitimate company with a bogus link to click, or a phone call trying to trick you into giving personal information (called vishing) or SMS text messages urging you to click a link to an unsecure site (called smishing).
Research Online Events
If you’re planning to attend a webinar or online market that requires an admission fee and receive an email or other form of communication from the host or vendor, make sure it’s legitimate before providing any information by doing a little bit of research. Learn about the company online, read reviews from previous participants and take note of their logo and branding. If there is anything that seems off (the logo is different, the email address isn’t the one provided online, etc.) it’s best to avoid the communication entirely. Still not sure? Contact the host via the phone number or email provided on their official website and ask them if they had contacted you recently.
Say No to Spam
We’ve all been told to check our spam folder from time to time in an attempt to recover a lost email, because it can happen. However, the spam folder exists for a reason. Email servers are designed to identify suspicious emails and unverified addresses in an attempt to protect you from potential fraud. If you open your spam folder and find unsolicited emails attempting to gain personal information from you, it’s best to leave them where they are. Avoid clicking any links on unsolicited emails or texts as well, as they may contain a virus that can put your personal information in danger of being stolen, or send you to a fake website that asks you to enter your date of birth, social insurance number, etc.
Don’t Give In to Threats
Many phishing scams use threats to scare potential victims into handing over their information. This is mostly common with scams that imitate government agencies, such as the CRA, and threaten fines, legal action or even jail time if you do not provide information such as your social insurance number. If this happens to you, avoid giving into the immediate panic and remember that legitimate organizations would not use threats as a method to gain your information.
Keep Records and Check Statements
Always keep records and receipts from online transactions, especially if you find yourself making purchases from a website you don’t have previous experience with. That way, any potential fraudulent online activity can be disputed with your credit card company. Also, checking your financial statements regularly is important, not only for budgeting purposes and identifying hidden fees, but also to ensure you recognize each transaction. If something seems fishy (or better yet, phish-y), contact your bank right away.
Navigating this world can be scary, as new scams are always being developed and often prey on our fears and stresses. It is important to think before acting impulsively and identify factors that may be giveaways to fraudulent behaviour. If you suspect you’ve been the victim of fraud, follow these steps provided by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.