There’s one thing that really gets my goat in matters of money and personal debt. It’s the scam artist who preys on innocent people, especially trusting seniors and unsuspecting young people. Suddenly, without knowing why, people can find themselves missing funds and facing bad debt or a bad credit score thanks to sly criminals working the phones and the Internet to steal identities and access financial accounts. That’s why I urge everyone to participate in Fraud Prevention Month – on through to the end of March. It’s a good time to review the practices of fraudsters, and spread the word to others close to you.
The fact is, according to a recent survey sponsored by Visa, millions of Canadians – especially digitally connected young people – are right now the target of so-called “phishing scams.” These crimes involve fraudsters trying to steal personal information online for financial gain. The Visa survey showed that “92 per cent of respondents under age 35 confirmed they had been targeted by phishing scams for information such as bank accounts, passwords, card numbers and social insurance numbers.” Meanwhile, the criminals usually seek information from the elderly by phone.
As reported by advisor.ca in late February, fraudsters have made a dark art of connecting with others online and through mobile phones. “They’re very well connected for the most part,” said Gord Jamieson, head of risk services at Visa Canada. Overall, 84 per cent of those surveyed said they are aware of being the target of phishing scams, with two-thirds saying they would report the scams if they knew how. Jamieson said that about a third of the respondents admitted to having fallen prey to phishing scams. “Unsolicited emails, text messages, mail and phone calls that have a ‘sense of urgency’ and appear to require an immediate response or ‘your account could be closed’ are typical tactics of phishing scams,” advisor.ca noted.
The fake emails can be quite convincing if recipients don’t closely examine things like the addresses from which the emails are sent, as well as the wording of the email text. Complicated and nonsensical email addresses should raise red flags, as should bad spelling and grammar in the email text. Most importantly, according to Jamieson, people should remember that banks, businesses, organizations, and credit card companies do not ask for passwords, account numbers, or other personal financial information by email. If you’re doing business with them, they already know who you are, he said.
Plainly put, emails raising any suspicions whatsoever should never be opened, advisor.ca advises. “Opening phishing emails can result in malware being installed on a user’s computer that can steal passwords when doing online banking, for example.” Any suspicious emails should be forwarded to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at firstname.lastname@example.org or to email@example.com, which connects to the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG). It’s a worldwide coalition unifying the global response to cybercrime across industry, government, and law-enforcement sectors.
Of course, phishing scams are far from being the only form of consumer abuse that we should be focusing on these days. I'm reminded of some disreputable "debt settlement services" that have hurt Ontario consumers. Meanwhile, with tax season upon us, fraudsters are hard at work in many ways. As Fraud Prevention Month gets underway, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is reminding Canadians to protect themselves against other scams. “Some individuals are selling tax scams that have serious legal consequences. No matter how tempting it might be to believe that you don’t have to pay any taxes, Canadians are urged to remember the old adage: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” CRA says. If you think you might be the target of a tax scam, visit www.cra.gc.ca/fraudprevention for information about what to do.
Just remember that scammers go after people of all backgrounds, ages and income levels. As CRA points out, “fake lotteries, Internet frauds, get-rich-quick schemes, pyramid schemes, and miracle health cures are some of the favoured means of separating the unwary from their money. New varieties of these scams appear all the time.”
Do yourself a favour during Fraud Prevention Month by looking into The Little Black Book of Scams created by the Government of Canada’s Competition Bureau. The book is a great reference identifying and explaining virtually all forms of fraud. Find out what you can do to protect yourself and your hard-earned dollars so that you don’t end up with bad debt, a bad credit score, or the need to seek credit counselling because your finances are in chaos. Visit http://bit.ly/1c07H2t to access The Little Black Book of Scams.
Try to stay sharp, not just during Fraud Prevention Month, but each and every day.