Carol In Your Corner: Preventing Fraud



March is Fraud Prevention Month. Actually, the entire year should be dedicated to ensuring that fraudsters stop taking advantage of trusting ‘victims’. If only the perpetrators would put their obvious entrepreneurial and innovative skills to better ends the world would be a lot better, and a lot safer.

Their nefarious schemes change with the times, and seem to go in cycles, ranging from spurious telemarketing offers, through suspicious emails, to phone calls pleading for help. The first line of defence is to be aware, the second is never to agree without checking, and the third is to report to Canada’s Anti-Fraud Centre, commonly called Phone Busters. Their website offers sound advice on how to detect phony offers, and what to do about them. Or, you can reach them toll free at 1-888-495-8501

The internet appears to offer increasing opportunities. One of these is called “phishing” and the purpose is to gain access to your bank accounts. The problem is that they look legitimate and far too many people simply respond.   They will offer a reason for the enquiry which seems on the surface to be legitimate, such as there has been a security breach and you are asked to click on a link. This will take you to a fake website which often has a copy of the bank’s logo. Once there, you will be asked other questions, such as credit card numbers, account numbers, passwords, and/or social security numbers. In other words, the scammers are appropriating your identity. And they intend to use it. These tactics are also used to gain access to your account with a large, legitimate company.

In fact, banks and these companies never send out emails asking for that information. If you receive one, it’s your turn to be suspicious. Don’t hit “reply”, and if you want to report it, forward it to the company that has been hacked. Many have websites with information as to how you can report, such as this Royal Bank of Canada website. You can inquire at your own bank to find out if they offer this opportunity. And be sure to delete the request.

Another avenue fraudsters have discovered is the phony equivalent of on-line dating. In these cases, they don’t want romance, but access to your bank account. They steal photos and use dating sites to initiate a “relationship”. The point is to gain your confidence – which is the first rule in the fraud “business”, through displays of affection, even sending gifts. Quite often they are anxious to meet you in person; they live in another country, but unfortunately, can’t afford the ticket and will ask for your assistance. Or, suddenly a family member has become ill and they need help with medical costs. At first you “help them out with a small loan”, then as the relationship progresses you find yourself throwing more and more into the pot. By the time your realize what’s happening you’ve spent a lot of money and you’re too embarrassed at your naivety to tell anybody.

Another trick is to send you a cheque, ask you to cash it and send a portion of the funds back to them. The cheque will bounce all the way down the street, and you’ll be left covering any bank fees and whatever amount you returned to the scammer.

Another ploy involves a phone call late at night to a senior. When Grandpa answers a voice says, “Grandpa, it’s me. I’m really sorry, but I’m in trouble. I’m in (another city or country) and somebody stole my backpack with my wallet and my passport. I’m at the police station and they let me call you, but I really need money…..” and so it goes. The voice is young, and if it isn’t recognizable there’s an excuse ready: I have a cold, it’s noisy here, the phone connection is bad, etc, etc. The fraudsters know they won’t hit pay dirt every time: not everyone has a grandson backpacking around the world, but often enough to make the scenario successful. Once again, the advice is, don’t send money. Take the phone number, but don’t call it. Call the kid, the parents or other relatives who more than likely will be able to assure you that grandson is sound asleep in his room, or possibly playing video games, but he’s not in some foreign city, bereft of money.

A variation on that is an email supposedly from a friend in a foreign city with a similar story. In short, her address book has been hacked. Let her know so she can change her password.

Then there’s the telephone with “good news”. You are a winner! Great, how do you collect? Well, it’s a little complicated. First you have to send an amount to cover certain fees, but rest assured, once this is taken care of……and on it goes. At this point, you hang up the phone.

Another ploy, described so well in Will Ferguson’s novel, “419”, offers insight into that insidious criminal cartel, based in Nigeria. In the book, a Canadian is the recipient of an email which begins, “Dear Sir. I am the daughter of a Nigerian diplomat, and I need your help…” and little by little he is entrapped.   Known as “419” this practice has become an organized “business”, where the perpetrators carry on their activities day after day, reeling in their victims over a long period of time. The novel explores not only the Canadian connection but the characters involved in Nigeria as well. Not only is it “educational”, but a very good read.

Two stories in the news recently caught my eye. One concerned an extremely complicated fraud perpetrated by a man who portrayed himself as a “faith healer” and used magic tricks to defraud his targets of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Through the hard work of some of his victims, the fraudster was finally convicted in England and jailed for nine years. However, it took years of dedication and perseverance – and money – for them to see him behind bars. They are hoping to have him tried in Canada as well, when he completes his sentence.

The other story concerned someone who was defrauded by someone who announced he was from the Canada Revenue Agency, and that she owed back taxes. She was asked to load the amount onto prepaid credit cards, and call back with the account numbers.   Fortunately, his photo was caught on camera as he withdrew the money from an ATM. Let us hope his venture into obtaining easy money will find him atoning for his sins in a jail cell.

IN OUR NEXT ISSUE: How to protect yourself from too aggressive sales pitches, and other practices which inhabit a “grey area” in the business world.