It can happen in so many different ways. You open an email, visit a website, get an urgent text or message from what you think is a friend or service provider, or even just answer the phone.
These could all be the beginnings of a scam and, no matter the form they take or how legitimate they may seem at first, they truly only have two goals — to steal your identity and take your money.
Thankfully, with a bit of knowledge, you can identify scams before getting duped. There are also ways to recover if you still fall victim to one of them despite your best efforts and awareness of all the signs.
Here are some of the most common scams in Canada which contribute to this worldwide multi-billion-dollar black-market industry.
These scams take many forms — from viruses that infect your computer to trouble with a government agency to threatening letters that claim to be covered in some controlled substance. No matter the premise, scammers will say they can fix the problem — so long as you send a large sum of money, usually via several gift cards or cryptocurrency, which cannot be tracked.
If you get a call from someone claiming to be a government agency, bank, Amazon, Apple or some other legitimate sounding organization where you have an account, don’t call them back or “Press 1 to speak to a live person.” Instead, hang up, look up the company and call them back at their contact number to confirm whether or not you received their call.
Any time you are asked to send money as gift cards or cryptocurrency, it’s likely a scam because legitimate organizations rarely use these methods to collect money. If you are the target of a controlled substance letter attack, put the letter in a reusable plastic storage bag, sanitize where you opened it, wash your hands and call the police. To prevent ransomware attacks, invest in robust anti-malware software and back up your files.
These scams, which come via email or phone call, tell you that you are entitled to a refund or government benefit. When you call to claim the money, the fraudsters ask for your bank information so they can deposit it into your account. Sometimes the scam is just about getting your bank information. Other times, it may appear as though you received a deposit (even though you didn’t), but it’s too large — so you are told to pay the money back.
Don’t respond to unsolicited emails, text messages, social media messages or phone calls without first calling or emailing the organization in question from their contact page and confirming they are offering you a refund. It’s also important to never give away crucial account or login information until you confirm that you are indeed talking to the real organization.
This scam presents a link that claims to be from a legitimate organization where you have an online account. It tells you there’s a problem with your account that needs your attention right away. Click and it takes you to a fake login page where you then enter your account details. Those details are sent to scammers who then log in as you on your real account and make purchases or steal your identity. Another variation downloads a virus to your computer from the link.
Don’t click suspicious links until confirming the email or message was really sent from the legitimate organization. Before entering your login information, check the address bar of the site you’re on and compare it against the real site address from the company. Always have updated anti-virus and anti-malware software. Report fraud claiming to be a website or service to the webmaster or service provider.
Stay calm and gather any documents you still have related to the scam, such as copies of text messages, emails, receipts, letters or phone recordings.
Change all your important passwords and put a flag on all your accounts, including your credit report at both credit bureaus — Equifax and TransUnion. This will help if your account credentials or identity were stolen.
Educate yourself on how scams operate to protect yourself from future scams. Invest in strong anti-virus and cybersecurity protection, including a password manager, ad-blocker or VPN (Virtual Private Network)
File reports and contact relevant authorities. Here’s who you should contact:
Finally, tell others — including friends, family and colleagues — about your experience, as you may keep them from a similar fate.
Aaron Broverman has been a personal finance journalist for over a decade. His work has appeared on such outlets as Yahoo Finance Canada, Bankrate and Creditcards.com, Money Under 30, Wealth Rocket, CBC.ca and Greedyrates.ca. This former Toronto transplant via Vancouver now lives in Waterloo with his wife and son.