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How to Stay Safe Online During Fraud Prevention Month

Fraud can affect people from all walks of life, regardless of their age, race, education levels or economic background. Both individuals and businesses are commonly exposed to fraud and online scams during their daily routines, and many of us are guilty of giving away too much personal information to a stranger or posting it online.

March is Fraud Prevention Month, an annual campaign by the Competition Bureau that aims to educate consumers about fraud to help them recognize, reject and report it.

“Recent statistics from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre show that Canadians lost over $106.4 million to fraud in 2020, $62.6 million of which was related to online fraud,” says John Eisner, President & CEO of SolveYourDebts.com. “We all must be careful to avoid falling into a scam, and the best way to protect yourself is to be aware of them.”

In honour of Fraud Prevention Month, Eisner shares the most common scams happening in Atlantic Canada.

Debt Settlement Services

Oftentimes, debt settlement companies promise to get you out of debt quickly and to reduce your payments to a fraction of what they originally were. You should be cautious of debt settlement companies that tell you to stop paying your creditors and ask you to pay up-front fees in addition to monthly payments.

“In this scenario, once you have paid the debt settlement company enough money, they will present this as a lump sum settlement to your creditors,” explains Eisner. “However, if you stop paying your creditors because you’re instead paying a debt settlement company that hasn’t negotiated with your creditors, your credit rating could be damaged as you miss more and more payments. It may take several months before your creditors ever receive a payment, possibly sending your account to collections.”

Phishing Scams

Phishing is the most common type of Internet scam. It is the act of masquerading as a trustworthy authority or company through some sort of electronic communication (usually e-mail) in order to acquire your usernames, passwords, credit card details, bank account information and more. Once you click on a link or open an attachment, your computer can be hacked.

Recognize these common signs of a phishing email:

  • The email claims to be from a company but has a Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo domain.
  • The email includes suspicious links or attachments.
  • The domain is misspelt and the email is poorly written, with grammatical errors and/or spelling mistakes
  • You don’t recognize the sender
  • The message creates a sense of urgency

“If you’re ever in doubt, don’t be afraid to reach out to the company in question to see if they’ve tried contacting you,” says Eisner.

COVID-19 Scams

Unfortunately, the pandemic has given fraudsters an opportunity to play on the fears of vulnerable individuals. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has reported several scams related to COVID-19, including:

  • Private companies selling fraudulent products and vaccines that claim to treat or prevent the disease
  • Phishing emails and text messages about COVID-19 vaccinations that encourage people to open harmful links, install malicious apps or reveal sensitive financial information
  • Unsolicited calls claiming to be from a private company or health care providers offering home vaccination kits for an up-front fee
  • Private companies offering fast COVID-19 tests for sale
  • Questionable third-party companies offering to help fill out applications, such as CERB
  • Criminals using your identity to sign-up for CERB and receive payments
  • Unsolicited calls, emails and texts requesting urgent action or payment and/or offering medical advice, financial relief, or government assistance and compensation
  • Unauthorized or fraudulent charities requesting money for victims, products or research
  • Fake and deceptive online ads, including:

Rental Property Scams

There have been several recent incidents where someone will pose as a landlord of a property that they don’t actually own and collect a deposit for a property that is already occupied.

“If possible, never rent a property that you have not seen in person,” suggests Eisner. “If you are trying to find a place to live before moving abroad, ask if you can have a virtual tour, or better yet, send a friend on the ground to look at it on your behalf.”

You can also ask for proof of ownership, such as a house deed. Be sure the name of the person you’re dealing with matches the title and the address is correct.

Fraud causes many individuals and businesses numerous financial losses every year. Many victims fail to report the scams and simply accept the loss thinking that they will be more careful next time. However, reporting a scam may help prevent many similar incidents and help stop fraud. Report any fraudulent or scam activity you encounter to your local Better Business Bureau.

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