Almost the moment e-mail was invented, criminals began using it to rip people off. Over the years, they've gotten pretty good at it too. Exactly how good? Well, we don't know because many victims are too embarrassed to file a complaint. Of those who have come forward, the losses run in the tens of millions of dollars.
The Ontario Provincial Police and Canadian Anti Fraud Centre say last year, one scam alone, the "emergency scam" was reported 225 times and was successful 61 times with victims defrauded of more than $230,000. The emergency scam involves an e-mail from a relative or friend whose e-mail account has been hacked, claiming to be in dire straights and asking for money.
This is only about five per cent of fraud reported, say police.
In recognition of Fraud-Prevention Month, here are top five ways you can protect yourself against e-mail fraud. Also don't miss Top five tips on safe online shopping and top five ways to avoid ID theft.
1) If you don't know who sent the e-mail, don't open any attachments.
Fraud occurs in two ways: Win your trust and confidence in order to convince you to hand over money or steal personal information to later steal money from you or credit card companies and merchants. Clicking to open an attachment can install a program in your computer that will spy on your activities and report back to the sender with information on what websites you go to and what your passwords are.
2) If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Ain't nothing for nothin' granddaddy said and the old codger was right. Between the classic Nigerian bank scam (we'll pay you a large sum if you help get money out of the country, but, oh, we need a small deposit first) to a new one in which the sender claims to be a hit man hired to kill you but will reconsider if you pay him off, there are as many e-mail scams as The Toronto Maple Leafs have excuses.
3) Even if e-mails look legit, they're probably not if they're asking you to reset your password.
Sure, that looks like a Facebook e-mail about resetting your password or someone wanting to "friend" you. But look closely and compare it to a real Facebook e-mail. Look at the different URLs. They want to take you to a "look alike" website where they'll phish your sign in and hack your account or trick you into downloading malware. Similar e-mails mimic eBay, PayPal and most Canadian banks.
4) You're not going to win a lottery you never entered
Banks, governments, schools, credit card companies, lotteries and courier companies do not mail you about lost money accounts, tax refunds, undelivered packages or your account status. They're all Phishing for the same thing: information. Hackers prey on your greed and know that a bonanza tax refund or an unexpected package from a long lost rich uncle is just the thing to get your attention.
5) Buying prescription drugs from an unsolicited e-mail is the fastest way to get a fraud-related headache
Yes, Viagra, Cilais, Levitra and the like are expensive when you buy them legitimately. But those e-mails offering rock-bottom prices? Forget it. All they'll give you is a headache. The same rule applies for all of those e-mails that promise to increase the size of your penis. Don't be a sucker. The only one getting screwed is you.