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Safe Banking

How to identify online scams

March 8, 2024
min read

March is Fraud Prevention Month, and we’re sharing some of the most popular online scams to help you and your loved ones stay safe from fraud.

Man and woman look at computer distressed

Have you ever received a suspicious text, email, or phone call? Anyone can fall victim to a scam. Cybercriminals are becoming increasingly savvy at crafting schemes to steal personal information.

Scams these days can be surprisingly convincing, which is why it’s so crucial to learn how to identify online scams.

Scammers want their victims to act quickly without stopping to think things through. But you can be smarter than they are! Here’s how to spot an online scam:

Popular online scams (and how to identify them)

Grandparent scams

This is when scammers phone older adults and pose as their grandchild or close relative. They might start the conversation by saying, "It's me, your favourite grandchild," or "Grandma? Do you know who this is?".

Questions like these encourage the grandparent to reveal the name of their grandchild, which the scammer uses to gain credibility.

They claim they've been in an accident or are in trouble with the law and need money ASAP. The scammer then asks for the money to be wired immediately, often thousands of dollars.

Victims of this scam may receive multiple phone calls from their "grandchild," law enforcement officers, and even court representatives. Each fraudster asks the victim to send more money to cover expenses such as bail, legal fees, and repairs to damaged vehicles.

If you receive a call from an unknown number, never give out the names of your relatives. Be sure to verify the story with other family members before sending money, even if time seems of the essence.

Employment scams

These scams target those who are looking for work by offering quick and easy employment.

The common theme with employment scams is after the victim is “hired”, a cheque for payment is sent to the victim. They may be asked to deposit it and send part of it back or to another party, or use it to buy office equipment (through a fraudulent website).

After the money is sent, the financial institution will eventually discover that the initial cheque was fraudulent – and that leaves the victim responsible for covering the lost funds.

Remember: A legitimate business would never send money and request you send all or some of it back.

Mystery shopper scam

Getting paid to shop might sound like a dream come true – which is why it’s a common scam used by fraudsters.

Mystery shoppers are frequently recruited on sites like Craigslist or Kijiji. Once "hired," they receive a cheque with instructions to send back some of the received funds.

Just like with employment scams, the cheque is eventually returned as fraudulent, and the money wired is lost.

When you receive a job offer that you're unsure about (especially if you never applied for it in the first place), research the company online to verify it is legitimate. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Email scams

You’ve probably received a scam email before. After all, it’s estimated that 3.4 billion phishing emails are sent each day!

The goal of a phishing email is to prompt the recipient to click on the link and enter personal information. Remember, you can always check the URL by hovering your mouse over the link without clicking it. It will show you where the link leads.

By clicking an unverified link, you could be taken to a phishing site or download malware or a virus.  

Phishing sites are designed to look like legitimate business sites. They may even be replicas of sites you’re familiar with but are designed to trick you into providing personal information.

On the other hand, malware infects your device with ransomware or a key logger that captures anything you type into your device, from passwords to credit card numbers.

It’s important to run the latest version of your anti-virus software and operating system, as well as have a firewall running to protect your computer from malware or viruses.

Some phishing emails are obvious, but others are deceptive and convincing. That’s why it’s crucial to learn the red flags, so you can spot scam emails before it’s too late. Check out the example below:

Notice anything strange about this email? Let’s take a closer look:

Here are the biggest red flags:

  • The sender and the sender's email addresses don't match.
  • An official streaming service email would not be sent from an account with numbers instead of letters.
  • Spelling mistakes and poor grammar.
  • Sense of urgency, coupled with a call to action.

Scammers want their victims to act quickly. The faster they act, the less likely it is they’ll see through their lies.

When you receive an email that you suspect is fraudulent, delete it. Never use links or phone numbers found in suspicious emails.

E-transfer scams

Given how common e-transfers are these days, it’s only natural that scammers try to take advantage of them!

Fraudsters send phishing emails that claim you’ve received an INTERAC e-Transfer. Always be cautious if you receive an e-Transfer you were not expecting – it’s most likely a scam. Here's an example:

A closer look at this message reveals it was not sent from a legitimate email address.

When in doubt, always contact the sender using another method to verify the legitimacy of the e-Transfer.

Report any suspicious transactions

Whenever you receive a suspicious message, remember the following:

  • Take the necessary steps to protect yourself by researching, making phone calls, and giving yourself time.
  • Don't give in to pressure to act immediately or click on links.
  • Reach out to your financial institution to help you verify the information you've received.

Be sure to talk to your loved ones about the most common online scams, so that they can recognize the warnings signs, too. By spreading awareness, you can prevent someone from becoming the victim of a scam!

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