#MakeItMakeSense is a series from the Star that breaks down personal finance questions to help young Canadians gain more confidence and understanding around financial literacy.
In the past, identifying financial scams and fraud was simpler, with robocalls and emails with grammatical errors making it clear it was not legit. But amid the pandemic and the ever-changing digital world, scammers and bots have become more difficult to identify.
In 2021, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) received 104,295 fraud reports involving over $379 million in reported losses. According to the centre, it is estimated that fewer than five per cent of victims file a fraud report with the CAFC.
So how can we take extra precaution in protecting ourselves online from financial frauds and scams? We brought in money expert Jessica Moorhouse to #MakeItMakeSense and give us her tips.
What are common scams and frauds to look out for?
According to CAFC, the top three frauds based on 2021 reports were identity fraud, extortion and personal information being stolen.
Another common type of scam to look out for is spear-phishing, which the CAFC says involves scammers pretending to be from legitimate sources to convince businesses or individuals to send them money.
Moorhouse noted she has experienced spear-phishing, pointing to a time when an individual copied her social media accounts and began sending direct messages to her followers, running scams asking for money.
“They just literally rip all my photos and even my whole bio. They make a username that is one letter different than mine … People have fallen victim to it unfortunately because they assume it’s me,” she said.
“There’s the victims that may think it’s me and they actually believe what this person is saying and then may actually lose some money.”
Additionally, Moorhouse pointed to investment scams, noting these types of scams falsely promise higher than normal returns to “get rich quick.”
“However, investors lose most of, or all of their money,” she said.
Romance scams have also become increasingly common through social media and other online spaces, said Moorhouse, pointing to larger cases like the documentary, “The Tinder Swindler,” where multiple women had money stolen from them from a man who led a dating app scam.
“Before it was more elderly people being targeted through letters and phone calls because they were more vulnerable … Now everyone is being affected because of social media,” she said.
“(Romance scams) promise romance and then usually there’s some sort of financial emergency and because they built trust with you, you feel like helping them out and then you never see them again.”
These romance scams have become much easier on dating apps as well, Moorhouse noted, adding apps often don’t have the best methods to vet users.
How can we take more precaution in protecting ourselves against financial scams?
Everything’s online and digital, and it’s getting more and more complicated to figure out how we can protect ourselves … but there’s lots of things you can do,” said Moorhouse.
First, she advised everyone to create strong passwords for each of their accounts and even look into using a password manager that safely houses the information for them. Moorhouse said she has personally been using the password manager 1Password, along with her husband and family.
“You can make hard to crack passwords, but also it lets you know if a certain website has been compromised and then to change your password,” she explained.
“That’s something that’s given me a lot of peace of mind over these years.”
Most people don’t realize how many accounts that they make, Moorhouse said, adding many people make them for different retail sites to get a discount for instance.
Another tip of Moorhouse’s is to never provide information when you receive an unsolicited email, which may sound like common sense, but it’s easy to forget in the moment.
She pointed to an example of when she was expecting a delivery from Canada Post and received an ominous email from what looked like a legitimate company email address asking for her personal information.
Because she assumed it was about the package she was waiting for, she almost entered her credit card information before taking a moment to question the email and realize it was indeed a scam.
“It’s so easy for us to accidentally put in our details because we’re so automatic with our credit card and whatever. So it’s something that we need to just be very mindful of,” she said.
Moorhouse also added to look out for a lock symbol next to a website’s URL, which would indicate it’s safe to log onto. The lock symbol means the site is secured with a digital certificate and any information sent between your browser and the site you are visiting can’t be intercepted.
Moorhouse noted if people want to seek other resources to protect themselves, there are online security packages and software they can purchase, such as the TELUS Online Security Powered by Norton for example.
“(These packages) give you alerts if there’s something sketchy going on with your credit card or bank. There was a thing called dark web monitoring where they let you know if some information you have is on the dark web,” she explained.
She also encouraged people to check their credit reports on TransUnion and Equifax at least once per year.
“A good annual thing to do is check your credit reports to see if anything is fishy,” she said, pointing to an instance of a friend who didn’t check a report one year and ended up in an identity theft situation where someone used her information to open up credit cards in her name.
Rest assured, Moorhouse noted that if these situations arise, people can work with bureaus who provide services to help figure out the best course of action.
Got a question or scenario that you’d like to see tackled? Reach out to Madi via email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll #MakeItMakeSense.
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