Keep your cash out of the hands of criminals with these tips for spotting and avoiding fraud.
Fraud-related offenses are a profitable business. In fact, the RCMP’s Commercial Crime Branch estimates that fraud related crime nets between $10 and $30 billion each year in Canada.
Here, some tips to identify and prevent fraud.
2. Ask questions.
Sometimes it isn’t easy to tell if the request or company is legitimate or not. Crooks have been known to adopt the names of familiar organizations and pose as staff from financial institutions. Phishing emails — meant to get you to enter your financial details into an online form — are getting more realistic looking too.
3. Know their tactics.
There are many different kinds of scams and methods to deploy them, but you’ll notice some common threads. In addition to a lack of information, watch out for:
– Requests to pay upfront to claim a prize or apply for a job, or pay using an unsecure method like cash or money order.
– You’re asked for personal or financial information you shouldn’t give out, like your social insurance number.
– High pressure sales tactics.
4. Initiate contact.
Instead of responding to solicitations, be proactive and contact organizations yourself. For example, if you’re interested in a new long distance calling plan, reach out to companies to learn about their promotions. If you want to make a donation, contact the charity organization yourself — you’ll also help the organization to avoid costly fundraising services. When you have a plan for your money, you won’t feel guilty saying no.
5. Keep your information secret.
Losing money isn’t your only concern: your financial information can be used to commit identity fraud, and crooks find innovative ways to capture it. Worse yet, if you willingly share sensitive data like your personal identification number (PIN), you could be voiding any protection offered by your bank or credit card company.
Your best protection is to know when to share and when to keep your information to yourself. For instance:
– Employers only need your social insurance number after you’ve been hired — but employment scams ask for it upfront.
6. Practice safe surfing.
Scammers love new technology too, and malware can be used to track and capture your financial information. Experts recommend installing a firewall to protect your wireless network and using a virus scanner on a regular basis as protection. Beware of invitations to click on links or download free software or files — they could expose you to malware.
Also, be careful when you’re out and about as free wireless internet access and shared computers may not be as secure as you think. With very little equipment and effort, a crook can set up their own wi-fi network and capture people’s information when they mistakenly use it. Even data stored in the internet browser of a shared computer can be useful for crooks. When in doubt, wait until you’re home to make sensitive transactions like online purchases or checking your bank statement.
7. Pay attention.
You may not know how you were caught, but you’ll soon spot the problem if you regularly check your financial statements. Promptly reporting the problem can prevent further damage and hassles. Experts also recommend ordering your free credit reports from Trans Union and Equifax each year to make sure your good name is protected.
8. Stay informed.
Do you know what scams are operating in your area, or how to prevent fraud and identity theft? In addition to breaking news, websites like Scambusters.org, The U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre all keep tabs on the latest cons and offer tips for prevention. You can also find alerts and information on company websites like your bank’s online service.
9. Help others.
Scammers love to target certain segments of the population they deem to more vulnerable and less knowledgeable — like children and older adults. Even tech-savvy teens may not have the know-how to protect themselves from scams targeted at their age group — like talent scams, scholarship scams and sales fraud.
Sometimes despite their best efforts, people can fall prey to a sneaky scam. Unfortunately, victims are often too embarrassed or ashamed to admit they’ve been caught. While reporting the crime may not guarantee the perpetrator will be caught or that you’ll get your money back, it can go a long way to helping an investigation and warning others.
If your personal or financial information has been compromised, you’ll also want to contact your financial institutions, the credit reporting bureaus (Trans Union, Equifax and Experian for U.S. residents) and any government institutions responsible for issuing I.D. — like your passport and driver’s license. (See Identity theft: what to do if you’re affected for more details.)