Protecting Yourself from Scams

Although fewer people fall for Nigerian scams nowadays, the sad truth is that scammers have become more and more sophisticated in their schemes to get you to part with your hard-earned money and/or your personal information.

Here are a list of the latest scams and a few tips to protect yourself.

Impersonation: Phishing , Pharming, SmShing & Vishing

Impersonation is probably the biggest and most dangerous scam around. It’s very common nowadays to receive e-mails or texts from our government, our financial institutions, companies or favorite charities, rather than letters.

Sometimes, these communications aren’t legitimate, particularly when they ask you to “update your personal information” or they need to “check your credit card info”. You may also receive an e-mail about “depositing your tax refund” or about a “problem with your package delivery” or a “problem with your account”.

You’re then invited to click on a link. When doing so, you’re directed to a copycat website, that looks like your bank’s or a carrier company…except it’s fake. Copycat websites have become way more convincing in recent years. It’s not always easy to spot them. This is called phishing. If your web browser is compromised by malware, it’s called pharming.

Impersonation can also happen over the phone or by text messages. The latter is called smshing and the former is called vishing.

If you receive such communication:

  • Don’t answer to it: banks, charities, companies and governments will never contact you directly by e-mail, phone or text to ask for your credit card information or personal information. Carriers won’t ask you to pay for a re-delivery.
  • Don’t click on any link in the message: these could contain viruses or direct you to a fake website.
  • Don’t call the number listed in the message: it’s also fake and you’ll be speaking to the scammer if you call.
  • Don’t give out any personal information

Instead:

  • Find the phone number/e-mail of the entity and contact them directly to check
  • Delete the e-mail/text message

Sob Story Fundraising

We’ve all seen it. Someone has cancer and can’t afford to pay for treatment. They organize a fundraiser. Later on, it’s found out they never had cancer. By then, the money raised is long gone.

Unless you know the person and/or can verify their claim, don’t donate.

Plea for Help

Also known as the grandparents’ scam, as it tends to target the elderly. Another form of impersonation. You receive an e-mail or a call from someone pretending to be your child or grandchild, or a friend of yours. They’re in trouble and in urgent need of money. Of course, none of it is true.

This was an on-going scam in Surrey last year, where the scammers made in-house visits to pick-up the money.

If you receive an e-mail:

  • Don’t answer: instead contact the person allegedly in trouble via phone or social media.
  • Don’t send/give out money

If you receive a call:

  • Don’t answer it either: if the call is legitimate, and someone you know is actually in trouble, they will leave a message.
  • If you’ve answered, the scammer will usually say something like “it’s me, your grandson”, or they’ll say they’re calling on behalf of “your grandson”. Ask for your grandson’s name. It’s unlikely the scammer will know it. Then hang-up.
  • If the scammer happens to have personal information about your relative/friend or yourself, ask if your relative/friend has been arrested, where and in which court they appeared or are due to appear. Then hang-up and do your own investigation.
  • Don’t send money and/or don’t agree to meet to make a cash payment

Fake Technical Support

You’re surfing the web. All of a sudden a window pops-up, warning you that your computer has “critical issues” that need immediate attention. You’re invited to call a number or click on a link to fix it.

In fact, your computer doesn’t have any issues, until you call the number or click on the link. That’s when scammers will take control of your computer, infect it with viruses or ransomware, then ask you for money to fix it.

If this happens to you:

  • Don’t click on any link or call the number listed
  • Close the pop-up window; if you can’t, turn-off your computer
  • Have your computer checked by a local, reputable IT company

You can also set your browser to automatically block pop-up windows.

Online Fake Romance/Dating

A con artist sets up a phony dating profile with either completely made up information or data stolen from a real person. They lure you in with messages, photos and phone calls. But they keep backing out of meeting in person and need help paying their bills this month. Or they live in another country and don’t have the money to travel.

If you wire them money, you never hear from them again or they keep asking for more, until you drop.

How to avoid it:

  • Ask for an in-person meeting. If someone keeps refusing to meet, he or she may not be real or might be interested in your wallet rather than you.
  • Never send money to someone you met online, and that you haven’t met in person, or that you can’t verify their claims.

Fake Job Postings

Fake job postings have existed for a long time, but have drastically increased with the pandemic. Fake job postings can be found on sites like LinkedIn or Indeed. They actually look legitimate. You apply and then the following may happen:

  • You’re offered the job almost right away, with little to no interviewing. You’re asked to fill-in paperwork that include personal information like your SIN (Social Insurance Number), birthdate and address. Your identity is then stolen and scammers apply for loans and credit cards under your name.
  • You’re asked to pay a sum of money for training or courses. Once you’ve paid, you never hear from the “recruiter” again.

What to look for to identify a fake job posting:

  • The company doesn’t have an online presence, or a very sketchy one: everyone is online those days…
  • The job posting isn’t advertised on the company’s website
  • The name of the recruiter doesn’t appear on the company’s directory or doesn’t yield any information when researching it
  • The e-mail of the recruiter doesn’t match the company’s, or worse is a gmail or hotmail address
  • The posting looks too good to be true: if something looks too good to be true, it’s usually the case

Fake Rentals

With a lack of supply and extraordinary demand, rental scams are on the rise in Canada.

Rent scammers take photos of properties that are already online, on housing sites like MLS or Rew, and use those photos to create fake rentals ad. 

When prospective tenants start inquiring about the ad, the fraudsters will likely give suspicious reasons why they can’t meet in person. For example, they are “out-of-town” and unable to show the vacancy. The fraudsters will then ask you to send them a security deposit or the first month’s rent via transfer. 

The money requests are usually to be transferred via MoneyGram or Western Union. But once you send that money out of the country – say goodbye because it will be virtually impossible to get back. And obviously, you don’t get the keys to your home sweet home.

How to avoid it:

  • Meet the landlord/property manager in person and visit the property: a legitimate rental will always let you visit it in person. If you can’t, have someone do it for you. A scammer won’t have access to the property.
  • Do a reverse search on the property address to check the address actually exists and the pictures haven’t been used for a sale listing.
  • Be wary of lower rents: to attract and defraud people, scammers will advertise a lower rent than the market’s.
  • Don’t give money until you’ve signed a rental agreement
  • Don’t send money via Western Union or the likes. In Canada, rents are paid via checks or transfers to a Canadian bank account.

Final Word

Scammers exploit characteristics such as greed, dishonesty, opportunism, desperation as well as credulity and naivety. They also prey on our feelings of guilt, fright and panic. This is called social engineering. the common factor is that the victims rely on the “good faith” of the con artist.

As such, there is no typical profile of a scam victim. Anyone can be a target, regardless of age, education or ethnicity. Thinking it will never happen to you makes you a most likely target.

The more aware you are of scams, the better you’ll be able to recognize them and protect yourself. With most of our life online, most scammers have moved there too. I’ve previously written on how to protect your computer -and by extension yourself- here.

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