Online fraud

What to look for and how to avoid it

November 3, 2017

There are many ways to stay safe online – changing your password regularly, not posting personal information on social media, using an encrypted Internet connection, and so on – but sometimes, even the most vigilant among us can fall victim to fraud. The safety and security of our clients’ is paramount to us, and with that in mind, we’re reviewing two common scam techniques in order to help you avoid them. If you have any questions or fraud prevention strategies or our wealth management services, please contact us – we’d be pleased to hear from you.

Social media and identity theft

Identity theft can happen online or off, but often, there is an online component. This article tells the story of a Nova Scotia woman who participated in what she thought was a contest. Wanting to win airline tickets from WestJet, the woman filled out some basic personal details and then shared a post on Facebook with a branded hashtag, as directed. The problem? The contest was a scam that had nothing to do with WestJet. The thieves used her information to gain access to her credit cards, which they used to make purchases and withdraw cash advances. To add insult to injury, the woman was a travel agent who was “mortified” when she realized that she’d fallen for the scam, saying she thought she was smarter than that. Even the best of us can be fooled!

For this reason, never offer personal information unless it’s a trusted, verified source. Twitter accounts are verified with a blue checkmark, and Facebook pages are verified with a badge. Many contests operate without asking for personal details from entrants – for example, those that require you to like and/or share a post to be entered. Only give your details if a verified source has told you that you’ve won – and even then, your name and contact information is enough. Never offer your date of birth, SIN or other personal details – there’s no need for any organization to have this information!

Telephone scams go digital

A recent series of fraudulent events in Burnaby caught our attention. Bitcoin is new to many, but the digital currency has four local ATM machines. Bitcoin can be transferred digitally as well as in person (much like traditional currency) but is harder to trace. In recent weeks, BC residents were scammed out of amounts as high as $28,000 by thieves posing as RCMP or CRA officials. As this article explains, the scammers have put a new twist on an old telephone scam. They call the victim and insist that money is owed for unpaid taxes or bail (saying that a family member has been arrested). The victim, caught off guard and now emotionally vulnerable, is instructed to obtain Bitcoin and transfer it immediately in order to avoid arrest or free their relative. The scammer then disappears with the money. It’s a terrible fraud scheme that often preys on the elderly, and it happens here at home.

While these thieves can be very convincing, it’s best to remember that neither CRA or the police accept Bitcoin. Even if the caller requests cash or a money transfer, hang up and call the police (or CRA) directly – they can confirm that no money is owed. If you receive a call like this, please report it to the police – they may not have fooled you, but they may fool someone else if they aren’t caught. Every report helps!

The bottom line

Identity theft can happen through email hacks, by logging into your online banking in a public space, by using your credit card at a machine that has been compromised or even by a thief who steals your paper mail. Risk is everywhere, but you don’t have to live your life in fear – just be aware, take precautions to avoid undue risk. Don’t save credit card information online or give your information to anyone who calls unexpectedly, however official they claim to be. Keep an eye on all banking and credit card records to catch fraudulent charges and report them in a timely manner. Above all, if you’re unsure about a transaction or request for information, remember this age-old advice: better safe than sorry.