The latest scams and how to avoid them

November 28, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


Many people believe that fraudulent schemes are isolated incidents that could never happen to them. But if you’ve read Will Ferguson’s 2012 Giller prize-winning book 419 about Nigeria’s Internet scams you’ll know better.

Cons intended to separate you from your money are big business. The Better Business Bureau and partner organizations investigate thousands of scams every year, from the latest gimmicks to schemes as old as the hills. So does the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), a joint operation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Ontario Provincial Police and the Competition Bureau.  The agency collects information and criminal intelligence on “mass marketing fraud” aimed at multiple victims.

In the first six months of 2012 the CAFC received almost 21,000 complaints of mass marketing fraud with losses of over $30 million. Another 11,500 claims related to identity fraud/identity theft and cost victims $7.5 million. “These calls represent only about 5 per cent of the people who have been duped,” says Det. Con. John Schultz who is part of the CAFC team.

The Better Business Bureau has compiled its list of the biggest scams of the year, showing that something that seems good may not live up to its promises.

  1. Top advertising scam: If you place an ad on a free site like Craigslist to sell your car, you may receive a call from unlicensed telemarketers offering to help sell your car. If you accept their offer, you will pay a fee of about $500 for posting to online classifieds you can post yourself at no charge.
  2. Top love scam: You meet someone through a social networking or dating site who turns out to be from a faraway place. They fall in love with you in a very short time. The person gains your trust and asks for money to travel or help with a family emergency. Victims usually send money through wire transfer.
  3. Top financial scam: Here the person earns the trust of an influential member of a group, family or workplace to use this connection to get their hands on their money. The investment is a fraud, you lose your money and your relationships could be irreparably harmed.
  4. Top online scam: Online financial fraudsters send e-mail spam or they approach you on a social media website or a web forum. The target is consumers who go online for financial advice. Some spam will lead to an internet ad, designed to gather your personal information. A fraudster will later approach you directly about the phony investment.
  5. Top sales scam: “Curbers,” buy old or damaged cars and sell them from parking lots or curbsides, advertising in newspapers and online ads. The buyer is out-of-pocket after realizing the vehicle has a long history of damages, a lien against it or the odometer has been rolled back. In some cases the vehicle may be stolen.
  6. Top youth scam: You receive a text message that invites you to participate in a contest for a great prize. The target is smart-phone users with web-browsing capabilities. You are asked to enter the PIN and later an email address with a link to another site to apply for a credit card. In the end you never receive a credit card and have given out personal information.
  7. Top computer scam: Consumers receive a call with a warning that your computer has been infected with a virus. Then an offer is made to clean your computer for a fee. The target is homeowners who have a computer with an internet connection. The result is that the scammer gets remote access to your computer and will also ask for credit card information for payment.
  8. Top business scam: The business receives an invoice that appears to be past due, when in reality your company has had no dealings with the business listed on the invoice. The target is business owners and busy employees handling accounts payable. The result is that businesses pay a fake invoice or receive more threatening letters about the credit consequences of non-payment.
  9. Top home improvement scam: Rogue door to door contractors will come to your home to seal or repave your driveway or fix your roof with product left over from another job. In some cases they offer a furnace repair that wasn’t requested or a free “inspection.” Targeted home owners are then out-of-pocket for unnecessary work or a poor job that has to be redone
  10. Scam of the year: An email that mentions the Better Business Bureau and says something like “Complaint against your business.” You are asked to either click on a link or open an attachment. If you click on the attachment, you may download a malware virus.

If this list isn’t enough to make you weep and you want to know more, Competition Bureau Canada’s 36-page The Little Black Book of Scams is a helpful resource full of information on how to avoid being caught up in a scam and on how to report fraud to the appropriate authorities.

How can you recognize a scam?

The CAFC says if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. For example, you’ve won a big prize in a contest that you don’t recall entering. You are offered a once-in-a-lifetime investment that offers a huge return. You are told that you can buy into a lottery ticket pool that cannot lose.

They also suggest that you watch for these warning signs if you suspect that a relative or friend is being targeted by unscrupulous telemarketers.

  • A marked increase in the amount of mail with too-good-to-be-true offers.
  • Frequent calls offering get-rich-quick schemes or valuable awards, or numerous calls for donations to unfamiliar charities.
  • A sudden inability to pay normal bills.
  • Requests for loans or cash.
  • Banking records that show cheques or withdrawals made to unfamiliar companies.
  • Secretive behaviour regarding phone calls.

Have you, a family member or a friend ever been scammed? Share your tips with us at and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

06-Dec Holiday decorations A real tree or an artificial one?
13-Nov Holiday gifts Ways to save money on winter driving
20-Dec Transportation Ways to save money on gas

Nov 25: Best from the blogosphere

November 25, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


Today we report on a series of interesting blogs with no particular theme.

If reality shows like Income Property have you thinking about whether or not you should buy and rent out part of your house to help cover the mortgage, you may want to read Sean Cooper’s blog 5 Lessons Learned as a First Time Landlord on Million Dollar Journey.

There is a lot of media coverage lately about the merits of buying index funds to keep fees down and ultimately earn more than if you invest your savings in actively traded mutual funds. On Boomer & Echo, Robb Engen says active investing may not be dead yet in  Score One For Active Management? Check Out These Index Beating Funds.

Every dollar counts when you retire, so you want to make sure you get everything that’s coming to you from the Canada Pension Plan. But on Retire Happy, Jim Yih says that of the CPP audits that he has conducted in the past six months, almost half of the clients were receiving less than they were entitled to because not all earnings were included in the pension calculation. He has suggestions how you can ensure you are being paid the correct amount of CPP.

My Own Advisor gives a Financial Literacy month primer on Old Age Security benefits and offers his controversial wish for OAS:  keep it afloat but overhaul this sacred cow so any individual senior making $70,000 or more is ineligible for OAS benefits.

And finally, on Brighter Life, Kevin Press asks, Should we worry about seniors living in poverty? Answering his own question, he says that although one in five Canadians is worried about being able to cover basic living expenses in retirement, we live in a country considered a world leader in the fight against senior citizen poverty.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere. Share the information with us on and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

How to choose a financial planner

November 21, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


When I was considering retiring from my corporate job, I sought the advice of a financial planner. He gave me the confidence to pack up my downtown office and embark on a new journey.

Choosing a financial planner at the time was easy, because a retired actuary I worked with previously had attained the Certified Financial Planner designation and started his own business. One significant point in his favour was that he fully understood my entitlements under our company pension plan. I also knew and trusted him.

A financial plan is both an essential part of working towards your long-term financial objectives and a critical tool to help prepare goals for the unexpected. But if you don’t already have a relationship with a financial planner, finding one may seem like a daunting challenge, at least in part because financial planning is not regulated in most Canadian provinces. Some people who call themselves “planners” are simply licensed to sell investments.

One recognized designation is the Certified Financial Planner. CFP certification provides some assurance that the planner is committed to internationally-recognized professional standards of competence, ethics and practice as set and enforced in Canada by the Financial Planning Standards Council. CFP professionals are also subject to FPSC’s continuing education requirements and enforcement processes.

On the FPSC’s website you can search for a CFP in your area. However, choosing a financial planner involves much more than selecting a name. Finding a planner who is the right fit is extremely important because it will affect your financial future.

The FSPC offers the following 10 tips for choosing a financial planner.

  1. Be prepared. Do some independent research to maximize your familiarity with financial planning terms and strategies.
  2. Think about your financial and personal goals. Take the time to reflect on what’s most important to you for both today and tomorrow.
  3. Ask for referrals. Speak with friends and family members whom you trust; ask them if they know of or have worked with financial planners they would recommend to you.
  4. Your due diligence. Get referrals from sources you trust, but also take the time to verify the planner’s credentials by contacting his or her professional body to confirm he or she is in good standing.
  5. Interview more than one planner. Interview two or three planners, either by phone or in person, and ask them to outline their qualifications and experience.
  6. Understand fee structures. Planners are paid in a variety of ways (i.e., commission, fee-only, salary) so understand how a particular planner will be compensated.
  7. Look for competence and ethics. There are a variety of different designations in the financial services industry, and some only require day or weekend courses to earn. Ensure the planner you choose has a qualified based on a rigorous education and certification process.
  8. Get it in writing. Insist on a written letter (sometimes called an engagement letter) outlining the specific terms of the engagement and any potential conflicts of interest. The letter should also clearly disclose the planner’s method of compensation and business affiliations.
  9. Re-assess the relationship regularly. Frequent communication is imperative to a good relationship with your planner. Make sure your planner understands your needs as they change over time, and have your planner update your plan accordingly.
  10. It’s all about fit. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing personal issues with a particular planner, continue your search. Honesty, trust and communication (on both sides) are critical to the success of the planning relationship.

Do you have any suggestions for readers who are looking for a financial planner? Share your tips with us at and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

28-Nov Avoiding fraudulent scams Latest scams to avoid
06-Dec Holiday decorations A real tree or an artificial one?
13-Nov Holiday gifts Ways to save money on winter driving

Nov 18: Best from the blogosphere

November 18, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


November is Financial Literacy Month in Canada. One of the building blocks of financial literacy is the ability to a develop a realistic budget and stick to it. After all, if you don’t have a roadmap or a financial GPS, it is impossible to figure out where you are going and how long it will take you to get there.

One place to start, is Squawkfox’s new series, 5 days to fix your budget. Kerry K. Taylor shows you how to set up a budget, find your net worth, set financial goals, and track your spending. Plus there are free budgeting downloads and software to make your financial life easier.

The Canadian Budget Binder also has a ten-part series published at the beginning of the year you may find useful.

  1. How We Designed: Our Budget Step 1 – Gathering All the information
  2. How We Designed: Our Budget Step 2 – Categories
  3. How We Designed: Our Budget Step 3 – Tracking Reciepts
  4. How We Designed: Our Budget Step 4 – Note-taking
  5. How We Designed: Our Budget Step 5 – 5S Organization
  6. How We Designed: Our Budget Step 6 – Who Does What and When?
  7. How We Designed: Our Budget Step 7 – Balancing Our Budget
  8. How We Designed: Our Budget Step 8 – Knowing our Coupon Savings
  9. How We Designed: Our Budget Step 9 – Reading Our Bills
  10. How We Designed: Our Budget Step 10 – Projected Expenses

Once you have made a budget, to stay on target Robb Engen says on Boomer & Echo, that you have to follow perennial advice from David Chilton (The Wealthy Barber). “Sometimes when people ask you to do something, you’ll have to reply, ‘I can’t afford it.’ It sounds so simple, but few of us have the will power to pass up the chance to go out with friends and family for fear of missing out.

For Robert, a guest blogger on Canadian Dream: Free at 45, matching expenses to income is an important way to stay solvent. That means if you are paid twice a month, try to shift certain big bills like mortgage payments, credit card bills or RRSP savings so all of these amounts don’t hit your bank account at the same time at the beginning of the month.

And finally, teach your children and grandchildren. Blonde on a budget Cait shares personal finance lessons she wished she had been taught in school. They include: how to read a pay stub; how to write a budget; how much to save and why; how to use a credit card; and, how to pay for post-secondary;

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere. Share the information with us on and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Want to save more for retirement? Pack a lunch

November 14, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


When I graduated from law school and finally got a job, I decided that I would never pack a lunch again. My reward for scrimping for so many years would be tasty, varied lunches prepared by somebody else instead of a squishy sandwich and a tired apple.

But it didn’t take long for me to realize that when I was working I often didn’t have time to eat out or even pick up a salad. And when I did, I was overpaying for excessively large portions of average or inferior food. By the time my children started school, we got back into the routine of making lunches for all of us most of the time.

Yet 60% of Canadians surveyed by VISA Canada last year reported that they bought their lunch out at least once a week. The majority of those who bought lunch spent between $7 and $13, while just under 10% shelled out between $14 and $25 for each midday meal. Young Canadians age 18-34 ate out between two and three times a week.

These appear to be small amounts, but they really add up. If you buy lunch for $10 a day even twice a week you are spending $1,000 each year. Throw in a $4 fancy coffee on 240 working days, and you’ve spent another $960. If both you and your partner do the same, your total outlay is close to $4,000. For a small fraction of the cost you can lunch on leftovers and for around $100, even invest in a single serving pod coffee maker for your office.

Just think of all the things you could do with an extra $4,000 like pay down your mortgage, top up your retirement account, save for your children’s education or go on a vacation.

Another bonus when you bring your own lunch is that you know what you are eating and can eat less of it. Commercially prepared food is often super-sized and high in both calories and salt. I found that one of the easiest ways to manage my weight was to impose portion control by always making my lunch in the same square plastic container.

There is no doubt that one of the pluses of going out for lunch is the opportunity to get away from your desk and spend some down time alone or with friends. But many offices have a lunchroom with a fridge and a microwave.

One place where I worked, a group of three or four co-workers didn’t just pack pre-made lunches. They brought various fresh ingredients and made lunch for the group. There was always bread in the freezer, sliced meat and salad vegetables in the refrigerator. Multi-ethnic leftovers were particularly yummy.

These days I work from home so going out for lunch is only an occasional treat. But there is no doubt that I have way more money in my pocket at the end of the week than when I worked in downtown Toronto.

Now if I could only resist the leftover piece of pie or the ice cream in the freezer and get to the gym a couple of more times a week, maybe I could get into one of the tailored suits I used to wear when I have to go out to an occasional business meeting.

Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP) has teamed up with Federated Co-operatives and, beginning in November while supplies last, new members will receive a $10 Co-op gift card as a “Thank you” for joining SPP. If you join the Plan during this promotion, you could use your card to buy lunch or purchase lunch ingredients.

Do you have any money-saving hints for readers who need to free up cash to save more for retirement? Share your tips with us at and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

21-Nov Money management How to choose a financial planner
28-Nov Avoiding fraudulent scams Latest scams to avoid
06-Dec Holiday decorations A real tree or an artificial one?

November 11: Lest we forget

November 10, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin

Lest we forget

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

By John McCrae, May 1915

Instead of the usual Best from the Blogosphere, this week we remember the tremendous contribution the Canadian military have made to preserve our way of life and allow us to live in peace and prosperity.

Canadian Military Personnel Killed
First World War: 66,665
Second World War: 46,998
Korea: 516
Peacekeeping: 121
Afghanistan: 157

On the Daily Brew, Steve Mertl gives five reasons why you should wear a poppy.

Blog Woman Robyn Lawson shares a poignant story about how profoundly moved she was during last year’s Remembrance Day ceremonies at her son’s school presided over by all women, including RCMP officer Constable Erin McAvoy and Andrea Hotomanie, the district Aboriginal Support Worker.

Blogger Dr. Liz asks us to do three things on Remembrance Day.

  • Write what you are grateful for that others have provided on your behalf.
  • Take one focused minute of silence and stillness at 11am on November 11th.
  • Make a point to attend a Remembrance Day parade. Really look at the people in the parade and honour them.

The Ottawa Citizen provides information about how to access the ceremony at the Canadian War Museum that will be available on webcast. Anyone wishing to see the event should visit starting at 10:45 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. The video will remain available on demand until noon on November 12. A limited number of tickets for access to Memorial Hall itself will be made available to visitors to the Museum starting at 9:30 a.m. on November 11.

And if you want to attend a ceremony in Regina or visit some related war memorial sites, take a look at the Regina Public Library’s Prairie History Blog. Ceremonies will also be held in other communities throughout the province.

How to find a holiday season job

November 7, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


Whether you are saving for retirement several years from now or you are already retired and want to augment your income, the upcoming holiday season is the prime time to get a part-time or temporary job.

If you are considering seasonal work, playing Santa Claus at the local mall may not be on your wish list. But there are lots of other jobs available at this busy time of year. Examples may include:

  • Sales associates and cashiers in retail stores
  • Gift wrapping and customer service positions
  • Waiters, bartenders and other restaurant/catering staff
  • Various positions at hotels, resorts and ski lodges
  • House sitters, pet care, dog walkers, groomers
  • Baby sitting and child care.

How do you find out who is hiring?

Many employers advertise both full and part-time positions on their own websitesKijiji, Craigslist and job boards like and In early October on 13,205 jobs of all types were posted in communities across Saskatchewan.

But don’t just let your fingers do the walking. In a recent article, Monster Senior Contributing Editor Mark Swartz says you should grab a handful of resumés, put on comfortable shoes and hit the streets. Arriving in person lets you apply for jobs on the spot. And if you get there during the day when it isn’t too busy, you have a better chance of speaking with a manager.

Here are some other ways you can find seasonal work:

  1. Contact a previous employer: If you have done full or part-time work before and your employer was satisfied, chances are they will jump at the chance to hire you again. A known entity beats combing through piles of resumés to find a suitable candidate.
  2. Apply for multiple jobs: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Apply for more than one position so if the first one doesn’t work out you have something to fall back on.
  3. Temporary placement agencies: Companies looking for seasonal workers often list them with a temporary agency. They may need replacements for people taking vacation or additional staff at their busiest time of year.
  4. Social Media: Use your Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook account to search the site for local companies that are hiring. Be sure to ask your contacts on each site for any job referrals.
  5. Posting ads: If you are interested in pet sitting, see if you can post an ad at the local pet store or veterinary clinic. Ads for babysitters and child care will attract attention on school and community billboards.
  6. Shopping Mall websites: Check out mall websites. For example, the Midtown Plaza in Saskatoon has listings for open positions at various stores.
  7. Get the word out: Talk to your family, friends, neighbors, former co–workers, etc. and ask them if they know of any companies that are hiring for the holiday season.
  8. Be adaptable: Employers often hire seasonal workers because they are open longer hours during the holiday season and regular staff can’t or won’t work on holidays. If you are prepared to work whenever you are needed, you will be a much more attractive candidate.

Do you have hints for readers looking for seasonal or part-time work? Share your tips with us at and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

14-Nov Work expenses Why you should pack a lunch
21-Nov Money management How to choose a financial planner
28-Nov Avoiding fraudulent scams Latest scams to avoid

Nov 4: Best from the blogosphere

November 4, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


Within the last few weeks the push to expand the Canada Pension Plan has been gathering steam in Ontario and PEI. Here are some articles from the mainstream media that will bring you up to speed on the arguments pro and con.

Push to expand Canada Pension Plan gaining steam

Grow the CPP – A better way to save | Canadian Labour Congress

CPP expansion would be too late for poor retired Boomers: study …

Time to put Flaherty on the spot | Toronto Star

CFIB: Canada can’t afford CPP expansion | Financial Post

But I really like Tim Stobbs’ take on the argument that we can’t expand CPP because higher payroll taxes will kill jobs. On Canadian Dream: Free at 45, he says, “Raising a tax won’t kill jobs…it will likely shift some around, but not remove them from the total.  So don’t hide behind that as an excuse to avoid changing a program that will help the majority of people save for retirement.”

But even if CPP is expanded, it will take a generation or more for Canadians to realize the full benefits of an enhanced program. That’s why you need to save and invest on your own. Find out how to maximize your savings for retirement and other objectives in 5 Financial Principles from a 34 Year Old Millionaire Investor.

If you have a workplace pension and are wondering about whether or not you should also contribute to an RRSP, take a look at this archived blog from Gail Vaz-Oxlade.

And as the year comes to an end, many of us will be faced with the dreaded performance review. On Brighter Life, Gerald McGroarty offers 10 tips to help make your year-end appraisal an occasion for celebration, not frustration.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere. Share the information with us on and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.