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Artur Marciniec/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Fraud is big business in Canada. According to the RCMP, fraud-related offences are now thought to be as lucrative as drug-related crimes, reeling in between $10-billion and $30-billion annually. In the month of December alone, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) recorded 2,413 victim complaints over losses of more than $4.5-million.

Unfortunately, many Canadians, especially those between the ages of 18 and 30, aren't exactly keeping a tight grip on personal data that may be used to perpetrate identity theft and other scams.

A new study by Visa Canada found that younger Canadians were the most casual about sharing sensitive information, with 32 per cent admitting to freely posting their e-mail address, home address, birthday, or phone number on social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.

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In contrast, 24 per cent of those aged 31 to 45, 14 per cent of baby boomers (aged 46 to 65) and just 9 per cent of seniors (66 and older) reported engaging in the same behaviour.

Millennials are also more likely to share their PIN (personal identification number) with friends and family, lend their credit or debit cards to others, shop online, and use mobile devices; behaviours that can increase their chances of being ensnared by a fraudster.

Results of the survey also found that while seniors are the least likely to post personal information on social networks, they're often the primary target of scams, particularly fraudulent phone calls and e-mails designed to solicit personal and financial information.

The "emergency" or "grandparent" scam, which has resurfaced with a vengeance recently, is the type of con older people should keep an eye out for. Typically the caller pretends to be a grandchild who's in some kind of trouble - whether a car accident, trouble returning from a foreign country or needing bail money. Wanting to help their grandchild, the victim sends money by a money transfer company such as Money Gram or Western Union.

Unfortunately, amongst those who had been victimized by fraud, seniors (66 and older) were the least likely to talk about it afterwards, with only 50 per cent reporting they had spoken to friends or family about their experience, compared with 70 per cent amongst all other generations.

"It's crucial that seniors have conversations about fraud, so they can learn how to protect themselves," said Gord Jamieson, head of Visa Canada's payment system risk, in a press release. "No one should be embarrassed to talk to family, friends or their financial institution if they have questions about fraud or are worried they may have been victimized."

But it's not all doom and gloom on the fraud front. There are indications that Canadians are starting to get the message about protection their information.

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A TD Canada poll found that the majority of Canadians are wary of emerging types of fraud such as online fraud, malicious social media apps, phishing and fraudulent cellphone apps, and are taking some steps to protect themselves, including:

  • Ensuring computer’s security software and virus/malware protection is up-to-date (86 per cent)
  • Subscribing to the highest level of privacy on their social media accounts (73 per cent)
  • Using a lock function with a password-protection feature whenever their mobile phone, tablet, or computer starts up or times out (54 per cent)
  • Never texting or e-mailing banking information (46 per cent)
  • Never downloading social media apps from unknown sources (45 per cent)
  • Never sharing e-mail or social media site passwords (45 per cent)

To help boost fraud awareness in Canada, the Investor's Education Fund (IEF), which launched the Cranial Clash financial literacy game last month, will offer prizes to the three highest-scoring players of the fraud episode this month.

The goal of the ' Scam Exam' financial episode is "to help Canadians learn to recognize a scam and take steps to protect themselves," said Perry Quinton, IEF vice-president of marketing in a press release.





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