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A consumer pays with a credit card at a store Tuesday, July 6, 2010 in Montreal. Will that be cash or charge? It's tempting to hand over a credit card to pay for almost everything from groceries to clothes to hair cuts, in some cases to get reward points. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)
A consumer pays with a credit card at a store Tuesday, July 6, 2010 in Montreal. Will that be cash or charge? It's tempting to hand over a credit card to pay for almost everything from groceries to clothes to hair cuts, in some cases to get reward points. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The Smart Cookies

Test your fraud IQ Add to ...

In the fall of 2009, Kahlil Ashanti was alerted that someone had stolen his credit card details and ran up more than $2,000 on his card. The 36-year-old was able to refute the hefty charges, but he asked his bank how this was possible, considering he still had his card on him. The bank's reply was that this particular fraud had happened over the phone, and in any case, they can't control whether merchants ask for ID.

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I rarely, if ever, get asked for ID when I use a card that doesn't have a PIN. Like Mr. Ashanti, I too have been a victim of credit card fraud and I don't have to look far to find others. I sent a message via my Twitter account last week asking for personal accounts of fraud and the stories came rolling in.

I heard from people who sent personal information in an email to an address they thought was from their bank - only to realize it was a scam, those who sent information from PayPal accounts to dummy sites, and even one person who had his debit pin replicated from a pinhole camera at a fast food restaurant - resulting in an unauthorized withdrawal of more than $800.

It's not always easy to spot scams and new ones are invented every day. Considering March is Fraud Prevention Month, it's a good time to brush up on our fraud savvy. Here are some suggestions to avoid becoming one of the thousands of Canadians who are victims of fraudulent activity each month.

Keep an eye on your mail. If you are unable to pick up your mail for any lengthy period of time, file a hold mail request online at www.canadapost.ca. Or, have a trusted neighbour or friend grab it for you. Also, file a change of address notification with Canada Post and advise all your financial institutions of your change of address well before you move.

Pay attention to billing cycles. If you receive bills in the mail and recognize they aren't arriving as regularly scheduled, contact the companies to ensure they have not been fraudulently rerouted.

Be mindful of what you toss or recycle. You never know who could have access to your important documents. Never just throw them away into the garbage. It's best to shred those that contain personal financial information, like credit card offers and receipts.

Switch it up and keep it safe. Change your PIN every few months or consider reducing your daily bank card withdrawal limit. Don't send your credit card number via email, reveal your debit PIN to anyone, or make a purchase from an online store unless you are sure it is a secure site. How do you know if you're on a secure site? One way is to look at the URL when you are going to enter sensitive information. If it starts with 'https' then you are on a secure site. If you're not sure, follow up with a call to inquire.

Know your credit rating. Trans Union and Equifax each receive approximately 1,400 to 1,800 identity theft complaints every month. At least once a year you should obtain a copy of your credit report, to ensure there are no discrepancies. You can order online at www.transunion.ca or www.equifax.ca. If you get a physical every year around your birthday, because it's easy to remember, then add a financial check-up to the list as well.

If you think you've been involved in a scam, you should notify your financial institutions and report fraudulent activities to The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, formerly PhoneBusters, or Canada's Competition Bureau. You can also get more information from the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments by calling 1-888-451-4519 or emailing ombudsman@obsi.ca.

Smart people fall for stupid scams. We get busy, we're trusting, and maybe a little disorganized. We don't review documents, or dig deeper into legitimacies, or notice when a card goes missing. While fraudulent activity can be totally out of our hands, a lot of it can be avoided by taking small but necessary steps to protect ourselves and our families.



Test Yourself: How Fraud Savvy Are You?

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