Canadians continue to lose millions of dollars each year to Internet or mail fraud, deceptive telemarketing and identity theft.
“Statistics showing one million adult Canadians have fallen victim to mass marketing fraud highlight the need for more consumer education and vigilance,” said Sheridan Scott, Commissioner of Competition Bureau Canada.
A 2007 Environics survey, conducted for the Competition Bureau Canada, found that over half of Canadians reported they had been targeted for mass marketing fraud alone – and one million of these have fallen victim.
The study, which surveyed 6,116 Canadians, also debunked the myth that victims are more likely to be older and poorly educated. In fact, Canadians under 30 and middle-income earners were the most likely to be defrauded. (Read the study.)
Mass-marketing fraud was defined as that committed by telephone, mail and over the Internet, including deceptive email. The survey focused only on fraud that targeted consumers and did not examine attempts to defraud businesses.
The telephone was the favoured tool used by most fraudsters, the study reported.
Top scams* reported in the past year include:
High-pressure-sales-pitch vacation. The scam: you’re offered a gift or reward to attend a sales presentation, after which you’re subjected to high-pressure sales tactics and/or misleading offers. (Target: 34 per cent. Victim: 0.5 per cent.)
Advance-fee vacation. The scam: you’re asked to pay an advance fee to secure or hold a discount or free vacation. (Target: 33 per cent. Victim: 0.4 per cent.)
Prize/lottery/sweepstakes. The scam: you’re given the ‘good news’ that you won, or may have an opportunity to win, a prize but must first purchase something or pay a fee in advance. (Target: 27 per cent. Victim: 0.3 per cent.)
Bogus health product/cure. The scam: you’re asked to buy a health product or cure that does not work as advertised. (Target: 27 per cent. Victim: 1.9 per cent.)
Investment fraud. The scam: you’re offered an investment opportunity that promises higher-than-normal returns, but all the money ‘invested’ is lost. (Target: 15 per cent. Victim: 0.2 per cent.)
Work from home schemes. The scam: for a fee, you’re promised the means, materials and/or know-how for making thousands of dollars while working from the comfort of your home. (Target: 14 per cent. Victim: 0.5 per cent.)
And according to Phonebusters, the RCMP anti-fraud call-centre, consumers have reported an increase of emails sent by a supposed hit man hired to ‘assassinate’ the recipient. The sender demands a large sum of money in return for not carrying out the mission. For more information on this and other scams, click here.
Ways to protect yourself
• Don’t be fooled by the promise of a valuable prize in return for a low-cost purchase.
• Don’t hesitate to hang up the phone, delete the email or close your Internet connection.
• Shred unwanted personal information such as bank statements, credit card bills, unwanted receipts, cheques, pre-approved credit applications and old tax returns.
• Don’t purchase a product or service before carefully checking them out first.
• Be sure to request further documentation from a caller so you can verify the validity of the company.
• Check your credit report every year and report problems immediately. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada’s booklet Understanding your Credit Report and Credit Score tells consumers how they can obtain a copy of their credit report from the credit bureaus free of charge, by mail. To view this publication on line or to download a copy, visit www.fcac.gc.ca.
• Don’t disclose personal information about your finances, bank accounts, credit cards, social insurance and driver’s license numbers to any business that can’t prove it is legitimate.
• Be wary about calls, emails or mailings offering international bonds or lottery tickets, a portion of a foreign dignitary’s bank account, free vacations, credit repair or schemes with unlimited income potential.
• If a scam artist contacts you, or you’ve been defrauded, call PhoneBusters, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre, at 1-888-495-8501.
For more information, visit the Competition Bureau’s website.
The RCMP also advises that people use caution when disposing of or selling electronic equipment that was used to store personal information. This includes computers, PDAs, cell phones, and memory sticks.
How fraud savvy are you? A website run by the ABCs of Fraud offers a quiz that will test your ability to detect a fraud.