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There’s been an alarming surge in online scams across the country – the numbers are record-breaking and, according to officials in consumer protection businesses, unprecedented.
Many are blaming this worrisome trend on a variety of recent life-changing factors, including the pandemic, continuously evolving technology and the fact more and more people work, bank, shop and date online.
So reports the California-based Social Catfish, (SocialCatfish.com), a consumer protection and people search company that helps users verify online identities. The award-winning company recently announced a new study that shows “Canada is experiencing an unprecedented surge in online scams as a record $380 million was stolen in 2021, up more than double from $165 million in 2020,” according to its recent media release, adding that Ontario victims “lost the most money among provinces and territories, losing an average of $3,010 per scam.” (The Yukon and PEI had the lowest numbers.)
Social Catfish reported on this record surge after analyzing five years’ worth of data, from 2017 to 2021, from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. The company’s research also revealed that the biggest group of victims were in the 60-69 age group (younger people aren’t as prone as they’re more tech savvy). Those in the 40-49 age group came in second as most scammed.
Online scams are not new, but there’s been a growing tsunami of criminal scams and swindling in general across the nation.
Everything from suspicious emails claiming that a person’s banking is being compromised and people being urged to click on innocent-looking websites to the constant phone calls from the RCMP warning people they are going to be arrested. Hacked social media sites are huge, especially when people innocently click on a friend request, not realizing they’re already friends with that person, and causing a domino-effect of hacking to take place.
Right now, seniors are being targeted in “grandparent” scams in which an elderly person receives a desperate call from an alleged grandchild purported to be in a dire legal problems and needing bail money immediately or risk some awful consequence – resulting in the grandparent handing over a large sum of money to strangers, who then disappear quickly. SUN Media reporter Liz Braun recently covered the case of a man who was out over $17,000 due to this scam, and that in Durham region alone close to half a million was taken from innocent people last year.
Just recently The Washington Post covered in detail the ongoing issues of child identity theft – in which the perpetrator is a family member.
Interesting to note that, right before Covid-19 became part of the Canadian landscape, the Competition Bureau of Canada reported that Canadians lost nearly $100 million to reported scams in 2019 alone.
Those numbers have skyrocketed since the pandemic hit. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), (the central agency tracking fraud and identity theft), revealed in an earlier interview a staggering nearly $160 million in reported losses in 2020 alone – experts can’t stress enough the importance of being vigilant about keeping financial and personal data safe, especially during these complex times.
“We are living in a time when Canadians are particularly susceptible to fraud as a result of the isolation, financial hardships, and stress many have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rachel Jolicoeur, director of fraud prevention & partnerships at Interac Corp., in an earlier interview. “These vulnerabilities are unfortunately creating new entry points for fraudsters.”
Social Catfish reported the three biggest scams are investments, romance and extortion. “Fraudsters and identity thieves are always looking to take advantage of a crisis,” added Julie Kuzmic, director of consumer advocacy for Equifax Canada, in the same earlier interview. “It’s understandable to feel vulnerable given these difficult times, but we must remain vigilant.”
KEY FINDINGS FROM SOCIAL CATFISH STUDY
The three biggest scams are investment ($165 million lost), romance ($134 million), and extortion ($54 million):
1) Investment Scams – $165 million lost since 2017: Cybercriminals will offer once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunities via email and social media that promise high rates of return at little to no risk. Once you “invest” you never see your money again. Cryptocurrency scams are red hot.
How to Avoid: Research the person and company and consult a third-party financial expert.
2) Romance Scams – $134 million lost: Scammers target online singles on dating apps and social media sites and shower them with love and affection to earn their trust. Then they begin asking for money for emergencies and the victims are left heartbroken and penniless.
How to Avoid: Do not give money to anyone if they will not meet in person or video chat.
3) Extortion Scams – $54 million: Fake RCMP emails are in heavy circulation accusing people of serious criminal charges. They tell them to respond to a fake law enforcement email address where they ask for payment and other personal information to avoid going to jail.
How to Avoid: Law enforcement will never demand payment or threaten arrest by email or phone.