This is the most wonderful time of the year – for fraudsters.
As Canadians go in-store and online to shop for their friends and family, they expose themselves in greater numbers, and through repeated purchases in chaotic environments, to identity theft.
“The busiest retail season of the year has already begun and with an increase in financial transaction comes an increase in opportunities for fraud artists,” according to the RCMP.
No wonder police call this “season’s thievings” and advise shoppers to be a Scrooge with their personal information.
The cost of fraud is stunning.
According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, fraud offences now cost the country between $10-billion and $30-billion a year, making it as profitable as the illegal drug trade. And almost 80 per cent of these offences are the work of organized crime, police say. According to the RCMP, debit card fraud rang in at $119-million last year, while credit card scams added up to almost $366-million.
A TD Canada Trust survey released earlier this year found that about eight in 10 Canadians are concerned about fraud and an increased number are taking steps to protect themselves now in comparison to 2010.
“Consumers are much more aware,” said Justin Hwang, associate vice president of fraud management with TD Canada Trust. “We’ve been much more transparent to talk about fraud. I think that seems to be resonating with customers.”
Mr. Hwang pointed out that the chance of becoming a victim of fraud is small compared to the number of transactions taking place, but having been a victim himself – his bank card was once counterfeited – it pays to be vigilant.
“It makes you angry, so the more you can do to prevent that [the better]” he said.
The experts offer these tips for shoppers:
- Don’t lose sight of your debit or credit card, swipe it yourself. It takes only a few seconds for the bad guys to make a copy.
- Don’t worry about offending people, shield your PIN (personal identification number) and don’t give it to anyone.
- Don’t keep written records of your PIN or social insurance numbers in your wallet or purse.
- Use your home computer not one at a library or Internet cafe.
- Don’t click on links even if you know who sent it. Instead, manually type in a retailer’s website.
- Use a credit care with a low limit, a single use payment card or a reliable third-party payment system.
- Verify secure connections and look for an https:// address or the padlock symbol on websites.
- When buying from auction sites or unauthorized retailers, remember that legitimate goods are rarely heavily discounted.
- Monitor your financial statements online and alert institutions immediately to any suspicious transactions.
- Don’t leave mail in you mailbox.
- Shred pre-approved credit card applications, bills and receipts.
- Don’t provide personal information over the phone and don’t fall victim to telephone solicitations.
And if you believe you’ve been caught in a scam, report it to police or your financial institution immediately.
“People are ashamed to have been a victim, but anybody can become a victim,” said Sgt. Luce Normandin, the RCMP’s national identity fraud co-ordinator.
Reporting incidents help police monitor trends, shut down operations and alert the public to the latest scams, she added.