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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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 http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR 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.
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