If COVID has shown us anything, it is that people have the astounding ability to be resilient, to learn, to grow and adapt to change.
Unfortunately, this resiliency also applies to fraudsters. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), the central agency that collects information on fraud and identity theft and provides information on past and current scams affecting Canadians, fraud losses in 2021 were more than double compared to 2020.
To close out Fraud Prevention Month 2022, we wanted to remind you about a few common threats and scams and give you a few ideas to help you and your loved ones stay protected.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft is when criminals steal personal information for criminal purposes.
What is identity fraud?
According to CAFC, identity fraud happens when a criminal uses stolen personal information. If a criminal obtains your personal information, it can be used to conduct various types of criminal activities such as accessing your email and financial accounts, opening new accounts, transferring funds, applying for loans and credit cards, and much more.
Identity fraud can be particularly dangerous because once a criminal has your identity it can be hard to “lock” your information down again and stop further fraud (even if the criminal who stole it is caught). Personal information is a commodity that is sometimes bought and sold on the black market or dark web, so it is very important to do everything you can to stop the theft from occurring in the first place.
How to protect yourself:
Here are a few ideas for how to protect yourself from identity theft and fraud:
- Implement two-factor authentication on your email account, financial information and other important accounts/sites.
- Use difficult to guess passwords.
- Do not use the same password for every site/application.
- Regularly review your credit report and financial statements to identify strange activity.
- Bonus: read our How to protect yourself against scams blog for more ideas!
What is extortion?
As defined by the CAFC, extortion happens when someone unlawfully obtains money, property or services from a person, entity, or institution through coercion.
One of the most prevalent examples of extortion is the Social Insurance Number (SIN) scam. This scam involves targeted individuals receiving a recorded message from someone who claims to work for the Canada Revenue Agency, other government agencies, or even the police. The message states that your SIN has been linked to fraudulent or criminal activity and therefore has been blocked or suspended. Sometimes the message will include a threat of arrest or imprisonment and the fraudster often demands that you provide personal information or funds (often via gift cards) to reconcile the issue.
How to protect yourself:
If you receive a threatening message about your SIN, the best way to protect yourself is to ignore it and not respond. The biggest red flag with an extortion scam is the coercion, usually in the form of a threat (e.g., threats of fines, arrest, jail time or something similar). It is important to remember that a government agency will never threaten you over the phone with legal action or make demands for immediate payment. As well, a government agency will never request a payment in the form of gift cards.
Phishing emails & smishing messages
What is phishing/smishing?
You may be familiar with phishing messages (emails) and smishing messages (text messages) – these are messages that make you think you’re dealing with a reputable company (like your credit union or an online store), but are in fact fake messages that attempt to trick you into doing something like:
- Clicking on a link that takes you to a spoofed website and asks you to enter in personal information or passwords to unlock your account and/or share your details with the fraudster. They can then use the personal information gathered for identity fraud (described above).
- Clicking on a link that downloads malicious software to your device containing malware or ransomware.
- Purchasing gift cards or prepaid credit cards to resolve an outstanding payment.
How to protect yourself:
Although many of us probably think we can spot the signs of phishing or smishing from miles away, the fact is that these scams are becoming more and more sophisticated every day . These emails and messages may contain zero errors, spoofed sites may perfectly replicate the real site and links may appear completely legitimate and secure.
A good rule of thumb is to never click on links in messages or emails you weren’t expecting and to hover over hyperlinks to check the address before acting. But more importantly, you should always think before you click and get in the habit of always verifying messages with the sender before doing anything.
What are romance scams?
If you or someone you know is active on online dating platforms, proceed with caution. Fraudsters are using these sites and apps too, often using photos and personal information stolen from real people to appear legitimate.
A romance scam is when a fraudster reaches out using a dating site or app and claims to be romantically interested in someone when in fact, they are just looking to steal their information or money (or both). The fraudster is often quick to profess their love in order to gain the victim’s trust, and once they have it, they will begin asking for things such as sending them money for a medical emergency, family assistance or to travel. The fraudster may also ask the victim to accept money on their behalf, which can lead to the victim potentially committing a crime. The fraudster may have lots of excuses for why they can’t meet in person and often will ask for money transfers or gift cards, starting with small sums that increase as time goes on.
How to protect yourself:
These scams prey on emotions, manipulation and control tactics. Sometimes the victim is too embarrassed to say anything to family and friends, that’s why it is important that you watch for changes in behaviour or financial circumstances that can’t be explained. The best defence against this type of scam is to talk with the people you know are using these sites to ensure they know not to send or accept money under any circumstances. They may be unknowingly participating in money laundering, which is a criminal offence, and/or could end up losing large sums of money to someone who was never romantically interested in them at all.
If you think you are a victim
According to the CAFC, if you have been a victim of a scam, fraud or cybercrime, please contact your local police as soon as possible. It is also recommended that you report the instance of a scam, fraud or cybercrime, whether you are a victim or not, to the CAFC.
Remember: it’s the role of your local police to investigate. The CAFC assists law enforcement through maintaining a central repository of information to assist with investigations.
If you’re looking for more information on how to protect yourself, your business and your loved ones from fraud, visit the CAFC site for additional information. You can also follow our social media channels for tips and tricks on how to recognize and avoid fraud and scams. Find the links to our channels in the footer below!