The state of scam

Economic times are tough, and if scam artists have their way, they could get even tougher. Businesses and consumers alike can expect an increase in fraudulent activity by scammers during the current economic downturn, the Canadian government warned in a recent news release.

“Now more than ever, consumers and businesses can ill afford to lose money to scam artists,” said Melanie Aitken, Interim Commissioner of Competition Bureau Canada. “We expect both businesses and consumers to be more vulnerable to scams as they look to minimize expenses. It is important that they recognize the signs of fraudulent activity in the marketplace.”

These remarks came at the launch of Fraud Prevention Month, an annual education and awareness campaign in Canada and around the world.

“Recessions don’t phase fraudsters for a minute,” said Douglas Simpson, president of the Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus. “They look at economic crises the way they look at natural disasters — as opportunities to exploit the weak and the desperate. It is no surprise to any of us that are involved in fighting fraud that with the current economic downtown we are witnessing an immediate and disturbing increase in fraud.”

In 2008, the Competition Bureau received almost 15,000 mass marketing fraud complaints from Canadians, which is fraud by mail, telephone and Internet. And according to a report by Symantec, spam accounted for over 79 per cent of all email in February. (Read these important tips on email safety.)

Some scams to watch out for

Here are some of the more recent scams experts are keeping an eye on (and so should you).

Revenue Canada phishing scheme

The scam : An email suggests that recipients are entitled to a tax refund from the Canada Revenue Agency, but in order to receive the refund users must click on an embedded link that directs them to a website posing as the Canada Revenue Agency. Visitors are then asked to fill out an online form that requests tax-related information, including Social Insurance Number, date of birth, full name and the tax amount of their returns.

With this information attackers can steal the victim’s tax refund and then sell all their personal information.

How to protect yourself : First of all, understand that any request for personal information is the first sign of fraudulence. Like banks, the taxman does not request personal information by email. And while there are certain indications that a website may be fraudulent (such as missing characters or the absence of a lock symbol), phishing websites are becoming increasingly sophisticated. (According to Phonebusters, scam artists can now purchase ready-made phishing kits online that include everything needed to launch a phishing attack.) If you have a question about whether an email request for information is legitimate, contact the organization directly and not through the link provided within the email.

Telemarketing fraud

Whether it is phone number spoofing (your call display indicates a different number than the originators) or dead air calls (no one is there when you answer the call, but a telemarketer records the information to find out when you’ll be at your number to answer the phone), unscrupulous organizations are becoming even more inventive.

Here are just a few recent schemes:

•  The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) reports that fraudulent telephone calls are being made to policyholders. The callers claim to be from the policyholder’s insurance company and demand the immediate payment of the full term premium or an outstanding amount on the client’s policy, via credit card. The caller threatens to cancel the customer’s policy if payment is not received. ( Read more.)

•  Telephone sales scams are promoting so-called extended car warranties, often by calling cell phones or numbers that are on do-not-call lists. In most cases the sales agent will tell you that your vehicle’s warranty has expired or is about to expire and that he or she can sell you an extended warranty. The agent will then ask you to give them information about yourself or your car, or they will ask you to send money.

How to protect yourself : Do not give credit card or any other personal information over the phone. If in doubt about the legitimacy of the caller or organization, hang up and contact the organization directly.

Deceptive prizes

The scam : You’re asked to send money up front to collect or take delivery of a prize.

How to protect yourself : Never send money up front to collect a prize. Legitimate lottery and sweepstakes administrators never charge fees to deliver a prize. And remember: to win, you have to play! If you’ve been contacted about a prize for a contest you didn’t enter, it’s probably too good to be true.

Work-at-home scams

The scam : In return for an opportunity to make money working from home, payment is required up front for materials, instructions, training or equipment.

How to protect yourself : Do your research about any business opportunity. Be cautious of job ads that claim “no experience necessary” or include exaggerated claims about the amount of money to be earned. (Read more on how to spot work-at-home scams.)

Social networking worms

The scam : Users of Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites receive an invitation from a friend or contact, inviting them to click on a link and view a video at a fake YouTube site and install an Adobe flash plug-in. Instead, the “koobeface” worm installs a trojan horse program, giving hackers control of the infected user’s computer.

How to protect yourself : Always use caution when clicking on links in unsolicited messages, even if they appear to come from someone you know. Also, don’t install applications or programs you aren’t looking for and research any program before installing it.

Bomb threat emails

The scam : You receive an email sent out by a supposed assassin that has planted a bomb. The sender demands a large sum of money in return for not carrying out the mission.

How to protect yourself : If you receive such a solicitation, do not respond to it and delete it.


Check out the Competition Bureau Canada website for an interactive fraud quiz and more prevention tips.

To check out PhoneBuster’s list of recent scams, click here.

Sources: Competition Bureau Canada news release; Phonebusters;; Computer World Canada; NBC Consumer Watch.

Photo © DN-Group


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