PICTON — Prince Edward County’s Ontario Provincial Police detachment last month issued a phone scam warning after receiving a number of calls from area residents. Scammers called residents claiming to represent the government and said they were working for “Ontario Home Protection.”
The victims were offered a security device that could be installed in the home but were first required to provide personal and banking information.
This scam is, tragically, just the tip of the iceberg.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre reports that fraud in Canada is skyrocketing. In fact, confirmed cases of fraud doubled in one year. There were 39,992 confirmed victims of fraud last year, up from 19,934 victims in 2019. The anti-fraud centre says that victims last year lost $104.2 million.
But this is just the fraud that the anti-fraud centre knows about. It figures that actual fraud could affect one million people each year as fewer than five per cent of victims report fraud.
The most common ways of being scammed by phone or Internet includes people who pretend to be with the government, your bank, your employer, someone that you owe money to, or even an old friend. Scammers can use email or fake websites to trick you into sharing your personal information. A phishing attack hopes to trick victims into clicking on an online website link that leads to a malicious site or a site imitating a legitimate site. Victims are required to fill out information that might include their social insurance number, credit card number or usernames and passwords. These cloned sites often resemble popular pages like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Yahoo and Gmail.
Scammers then commit identity theft by using your information to apply for credit cards, bank loans, and other kinds of credit. Or they take money from your bank accounts and shop with your credit cards.
Handling a scammer can be intimidating. They use high-pressure tactics that can include telling you that you are being charged with income tax evasion and must comply now or police will be at your door within an hour. Hang up immediately. Watch for urgent pleas that play on emotion. Police urge reports of fraud be directed to local police and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. Also, contact the financial institutions, credit card issuers, or companies that are involved. Cancel any missing identification and contact the credit reporting agencies, Equifax and TransUnion.
According to the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, 34 per cent of Canadians have fallen victim to fraud and targets are not just the elderly. The vast majority of scammers don’t know you. In fact, 75 per cent of fraud comes from countries where there are jurisdictional barriers such as China, Russia, North Korea and Iran.
How do you protect yourself from digital and phone call trickery? Don’t engage, police advise. Do not trust the information on your call display because it can easily be manipulated. If a random number calls saying your computer has a virus, hang up. If a pop-up on your computer says you have a problem and to call a certain number, don’t. If a stranger calls, never share personal information. Some basic computer hygiene works as well. Don’t open links from people you don’t recognize; don’t send wire transfers to people you don’t know; don’t give anyone your credit card or banking information; keep your anti-virus software up to date; if you think you have a problem, reach out and contact a computer professional you trust.
A good rule of thumb is to avoid knee-jerk reactions. Don’t react
immediately to a cry for help even when it might mean sending an emergency $5,000 to your “son.” An elderly Eastern Ontario woman received a call from a man who said his nose was broken and was unable to speak properly. He convinced her that he was her son and then said he was passing the phone to his lawyer, who told her that her son was attacked and beaten but was also arrested and in jail. Without proper identification, the son needed $10,000 immediately and needed the money sent in the form of Home Depot gift cards. The elderly woman was planning to execute every demand until her husband’s ears perked up and he stopped her.
Avoid reacting automatically. Take five minutes to ask questions (what is your name? Your position? Who do you work for? What is your phone number?) Listen to your instincts. If something doesn’t seem right, ask for more information, write the information down or hang up. Then call a trusted friend, relative or police for advice.