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Receive a sus text? Does an email look off? Is a family member asking for money? Why is the CRA threatening the police and Canada Post wanting you to log in? It just might be a scam.

That ominous text telling you your Netflix account will be suspended unless you pay your bill. The constant texts from what appears to be Canada Post telling you it’s unable to deliver a package due to a wrong address. Just click a link and you’ll get all your things!

Sometimes the fraud is sneakier—although who can be blamed for wanting to pay a bill? For Daria, she and six friends paid Bailey, a “travel hacker,” for a trip to Thailand in January 2024. A had a Clubhouse group (remember the conversation app?), and Daria and the other members had got great tips from Bailey and other co-mods in the space. (Names have been changed, as the case has yet to be resolved.)

The seven women paid Bailey for hotel rooms and flew the 20-hour trip from North America to Thailand, only to find out that Bailey wasn’t joining them until a few days later. Then, to their horror, Bailey never showed up, she cancelled her trip two days before it ended and she had never paid the hotel for their rooms with the money she was paid by the seven women. Just one received a refund. The others have issued credit card chargebacks and have even contacted the FBI.

It seems like scams and phishing attacks are everywhere. If they’re not calling or texting, they are messaging you. On every. Single. Platform. Just while writing this, I had two calls threatening me with the police and a text message asking me to verify my address.

It’s irritating at best and financially devastating at worst. According to the RCMP, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) received reports totalling $531 million in victim losses in 2022. That’s a 40% increase from 2021. In 2023, Canadians lost $554 million. Think those numbers are big? Know that the CAFC estimates that just 5% to 10% of people report fraud.

Why do scams and phishing work on Canadians?

Why do we fall for frauds, scams and phishing? Maggie Cheung, a spokesperson from the Canadian Bankers Association, says it’s because of deception, manipulation and pressure tactics.

“Cyber criminals often use human psychology and the art of manipulation to scare, confuse or rush you into opening a malicious link or attachment or into providing personal information through a process known as social engineering,” she says.

These social engineering tactics force us to respond quickly, through the use of fear (like, you owe the Canada Revenue Agency money that needs to be paid stat) and leveraging our urges to respond to authority. (The CEO really needs you to send that bank transfer now, and the email looks real.) These pressure tactics are so sophisticated, they’re believable. That’s why the finance writer of The Cut found herself putting USD$50,000 in a cardboard box into the back of a car.

The common types of scams

Anyone can be a victim of a scam, says Cheung. That’s because the techniques to convince you are complex, and cyber criminals are adept at telling a believable story. Some of the more popular scams are:

  • The romance scam. The scammer gains the victim’s trust and affection and uses that relationship to steal money from them. The CAFC says this popular scam cost Canadians more than $41 million in 2023.
  • The grandparent scam, where the scammer spoofs the grandchild’s voice and asks for immediate financial help. Think “Grandma, I’m in jail. I need bail money. Don’t tell mom and dad.”
  • The locked-up account scam. This is when you get a phishing text saying a streaming account has been locked and will only be released if you pay the bill or log in to a site that looks legitimate. They save your log-in, use it and lock you out of your account.
  • Online/remote/part-time job scam. They really seem to love WhatsApp. These scams offer easy-to-do jobs with great pay, and all they want in return is all your personal information to send you money via an electronic transfer to pay for the materials.

Plus, there are tax-refund scams, rental scams, extortion scams and lottery scams. There are so many scams. The CAFC has an ongoing list of the different types and at last count, there are more than 80 different scams.

Speaking of electronic transfers…

Can I get scammed through an e-transfer?

Generally, transfers are safe, but you can get scammed through one. There are the marketplace scams where you either send money via an e-transfer for an item you’ve bought off of Facebook Marketplace or Kijiji but never receive the items, or you send an item but never get paid for it.

Then there are the phishing emails where scammers will send emails supposedly from reputable companies to get you to reveal your bank, credit and debit card information so they get access, lock you out and empty your account or use credit to its limits.

Yet another electronic transfer scam is where the fraudster intercepts your email money transfer, guesses the password (or has it due to phishing) and steals your money. Most banks now don’t require a password for transferring money. If you don’t have automatic deposit, sign up for it.

How to report a scam in Canada

Financial institutions do have a variety of tools to verify and authenticate customers’ information, but what can you do if you get scammed?

  • The first thing to do, according to Consumer Protection Ontario, is to stop communicating with them.
  • Next, change any and all passwords to any affected accounts, and that includes banking and social media sign-ons.
  • Next, call a consumer reporting agency to put an alert on your accounts, which will notify you if any credit cards, loans or any other finance product was opened using your information. The two main consumer reporting agencies are Equifax Canada and TransUnion Canada. For extra security, you could enable account monitoring, which costs $24.95 or more per month.
  • Report the scam or fraud to both your local police and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
  • Gather all evidence, including all communications, documents, receipts and more. If you had in-person contact with the scammer, don’t touch the documents as they may have left fingerprints.
  • Write down all your interactions with the scammer while fresh in your mind.

The last point is exactly what Daria did. She and her fellow travellers started documenting their and Bailey’s actions once they started getting suspicious.

Do banks and credit cards refund scammed money?

If you suspect a scam, report it immediately. Definitely report it to your financial institution as soon as possible. If it’s related to credit, your card will be immediately frozen. The good news is that if you protected your credit card from fraud and didn’t reveal any verification details like your personal identification number (PIN) or the answers to your secret questions, both Visa and Mastercard have liability protection and you can receive a refund. You can also dispute a charge and file a chargeback on your credit card or PayPal account. This reverses the money paid. Credit card chargebacks can take weeks or even longer so be prepared to wait.

If the credit card issuer won’t give you the money via a chargeback, you can contact the banking ombudsman to file a complaint.

If you were scammed out of money from your bank account, let your bank know. The federal government says that people are not responsible for losses beyond their control. That includes if someone uses your debit card after you’ve reported it lost or stolen.

However, when it comes to scams, it can be very difficult to recoup lost money, so right now the best defence against scams is to be aware of them.

How to check if a website, email or phone number is a scam

If you suspect a scam or a phishing attempt, there are some things you can do before you proceed.

How to check your emails:

  • Do not click any links in any emails, texts or social media messages. You can hover the link to see where it goes.
  • Consider the address. If it’s from a company or government department but has a public address such as Gmail, Outlook or Yahoo treat it suspiciously. Still, scammers are getting savvy and doing similar domains with slight spelling differences…
  • So, check the spelling. Is the email domain address misspelt? If Netflix is spelled like Net-flix or “microsoftonline” is spelled, “microsftonline” (missing an O), the email or website is fraudulent. And look for poorly written emails with grammatical errors.
  • Look at the tone. If the email has high-pressure tactics such as demanding urgent and immediate action from your CEO or demands to immediately pay bills, delete it and contact the company directly.
  • Be wary of random invoices and other attachments when you’re not expecting any.
  • Suspicious websites

    • Hover over the URL with your mouse to check the URL. Look for spelling mistakes or variances.
    • Same for the website content: Are there spelling and grammatical errors?
    • Is it an “http” or an “https”? Most legitimate websites use “https,” with the S indicating security measures. But scammers have also spoofed this so don’t rely only on this.
    • Check for uncommon domain endings such as .org versus, say, .com or .ca.
    • Check the SSL certificate which proves the validity of the website and shows that it’s encrypted by clicking on the padlock icon in your url window of your browser

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