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Safe Banking

How to identify online scams: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

min read

Scammers want their victims to act quickly without investigating the matter further, but you can be smarter than they are! Learn how to identify online scams and the most common scammer tactics.

The internet is the most widely used communication network, used by millions of people daily. It brings with it many positive opportunities and conveniences. However, it also creates opportunities for cybercriminals to scam innocent people out of their hard-earned money.

Cybercriminals have become quite savvy in their attempts to steal personal information. The most common cyber-attacks include ransomware, account hacking, and phishing scams. This article will discuss five online scams and how they can affect you.

5 Online Scams and How to Identify Them

Grandparents/senior scams:

Scammers phone seniors, posing as their grandchild, claiming they've either been in an accident or are in trouble with the law. In either case, the scammer asks the grandparent for money to help them escape trouble. The cons ask for the money to be wired immediately, often thousands of dollars.

The scammers use tricks to con seniors. For example, they might start the conversation by saying, "It's me, your favourite grandchild," to which the grandparent will guess the name. Or they might say, "Grandma? Do you know who this is?" Once the grandparent offers a name, the scammer uses it to gain credibility.

Some victims claim to have been phoned on multiple occasions and asked for money; by their "grandchild," law enforcement officers, and even court representatives. On each occasion, the senior is asked to send more money to cover expenses such as bail, legal fees, and repairs to damaged vehicles.

To avoid falling victim to such fraud, we recommend not giving out grandchildren's names to people on the phone and verifying the story with other family members before sending money, even if time seems of the essence.

Be cautious when you get a phone call asking for money. Make sure the call is legitimate when someone asks you to wire or transfer funds. If in doubt, ask questions before you send money

Employment scams:

Employment scams come in many forms, but all share several characteristics. Two of the most commonly used variations of this scam are the car wrapping scam and the mystery shopper scam.

In the car wrapping scam, victims receive an unsolicited email or text with an offer to earn $300-$500 weekly simply by wrapping their car with advertising. Once they sign up, they receive a cheque in the mail with instructions to send a portion of the money to a graphic designer to create the advertisement. Once the designer is paid, the person can keep the remaining money as payment. Eventually, the cheque is returned as fraudulent, and the victim loses the money they sent to the "graphic designer".

Mystery Shopper Scam:

The mystery shopper scam follows a similar pattern. Mystery shoppers are frequently recruited on sites like Craigslist or Kijiji. Once "hired," they receive a cheque and instructions to test a service like Western Union by sending some of the received funds and rating their experience. As with the car wrapping scam, the cheque is eventually returned as fraudulent, and the money wired from Western Union is lost.

Both variations follow similar patterns, and looking at the similarities can be useful in spotting other versions of the employment scam. One thing to be mindful of is that a legitimate business would never send you money and request that you send some or all of it back (or to a third party).

When you receive a job offer that you're unsure about, especially if unsolicited, do a little online research. It could save you money in the long run. And, of course, always follow this simple guideline: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Email scams:

With fraudulent emails so commonplace these days, it's safe to say that most of us have received one at some point. Unfortunately, while these messages' intent remains unchanged, they have become more sophisticated over the years. There are, however, still signs that can give away scam emails.

The example below makes reference to a subscription that was never ordered while claiming the recipient should update their billing information. A few elements of the message are noteworthy as they create a sense of legitimacy.

Can you spot the red flags in this email?

For starters, the recipient's email address is linked to a streaming service. With streaming services being a major player, the cybercriminals were betting that the email would find someone with a streaming service account.

A closer look at the email reveals a number of red flags –aside from the fact that nothing had changed with regards to their billing or streaming account.

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.

It's not uncommon for scam emails to contain spelling mistakes or poor grammar. While the featured example isn't the worst offender, certain words are inconsistent, "info" and "information".

A major red flag in scam emails is their sense of urgency – especially when coupled with a call to action. Scammers want their victims to act quickly without investigating the matter further. This sense of urgency typically comes in the from of threats such as account cancellations or legal action. By comparison, the featured email is rather tame. The goal, of course, is to prompt the recipient to click on the link and enter personal information. Check the URL by hovering your mouse over the link without clicking it. It will show you where the link leads.

The two major dangers of clicking unverified links are that you could be taken to a phishing site or inadvertently download malware or a virus. Phishing sites look like legitimate business sites and may even be replicas of sites you are familiar with, but they're 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, like passwords or credit card numbers.

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

When you receive an email you suspect is fraudulent, delete it. When in doubt, contact the sender directly but never use links or numbers found in the email.

Door-to-door scams:

Door-to-door scams are common tactics fraudsters use to con Canadians out of money. These scams can take several forms:

  • An individual posing as a representative from a charitable organization
  • Someone posing as a salesperson or maintenance person who is attempting to sell an appliance or service package
  • Someone trying to sell you on an investment opportunity

Door-to-door scammers use high-pressure sales tactics to create a sense of need and urgency in the hopes that you will give them money or sign a contract without researching further. You can protect yourself by being cautious whenever a stranger knocks on your door. If someone claims to be a charity representative, ask for their ID, take note of the name and organization they represent, and request, in writing, a breakdown of how donations are used.

If someone comes to your door to sell a product or service, don't sign a contract right away! A door-to-door scammer will pressure you to sign a contract right away, but close the door and do your research before committing to anything. Ask that they give you information about the opportunity in writing, and do your research before committing to buying a product or service. Then, check online; is the offer comparable to other similar products or services on the market? Do you need the product or service being offered? You may also wish to run the offer by a trusted family member or friend to get their input before signing any sort of contract.

Also, remember that you do not have to answer your door if you do not recognize the person outside or the company they're claiming to represent. You are protecting yourself from a potential scammer by choosing not to engage with a stranger at your door.

E-transfer Scams:

Recently, fraudsters have been sending fraudulent emails claiming that you have received an INTERAC e-Transfer.

A closer look at this email indicates the email address is not from an Interac address. It is also essential to be cautious if you receive an e-Transfer you were not expecting. When in doubt, always contact the sender using another method to verify the legitimacy of the e-Transfer. Never reply to the email you received directly.

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. When in doubt, reach out to the company to help you verify the information you've received.

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