British Columbia's Better Business Bureau has just released its list of the top 10 scams of 2014, and it shows most scams are now happening online, and scam artists are increasingly using social media to net victims.
Canadians lost more than $70-million to scams last year, up from $53-million the year before, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. But that's likely a conservative estimate, since only about 5 per cent of victims actually report scams.
The list shows that fraudsters are using our tendency to crowd-source information against us. This year's top ad scam is astroturfing, where scammers post fake online reviews that make bad products or companies look appealing. Ninety per cent of people now read reviews before making a purchase, and at least one in 5 of those reviews are fake, according to Danielle Primrose, president of the B.C. Better Business Bureau.
"It does a huge disservice to the marketplace trust," she said at a news conference on Thursday. "While they can be helpful, don't solely rely on reviews. Check out a business's track record."
Fake Facebook friend requests also made the top 10 list. Scammers, often disguised as someone familiar, send links to victims that download malware onto their computers if opened.
There were two noteworthy additions to the list this year, including the B.C. Hydro scam. Since the fall, people across the province have been receiving phone calls from fake B.C. hydro workers telling them they must pay immediately or have their electricity cut off.
"We've now received more than 1,200 complaints," said Steve Vanagas, chief communications officer with B.C. Hydro. "In some cases, these customers are losing hundreds of dollars or even thousands of dollars."
Big data breaches were the most alarming entry on this year's list. Two hundred million consumers in North America had their debit and credit card information stolen last year when data was breached at big-box stores such as Target and Home Depot. And there's only so much people can do to protect themselves.
"Always review your bank statements and change your passwords regularly," Ms. Primrose advised.
But many of this year's scams prove that what's new is actually old. Second-hand car dealers have moved online, selling bad vehicles to customers who haven't done their homework. Yesterday's door-to-door handymen are today's fake software technicians, promising to clean viruses from compromised computers.
And there are the ever-popular scams that prey on our desires, both good and bad. Catphishers, who use dating sites to take money from unsuspecting lovers, made at least $13-million off Canadians last year, said Ms. Primrose. Automated phone calls announcing cash prizes and free vacations still made the list, despite being one of the most clichéd scams.
With more and more scams moving online and infiltrating social media, it's not just the elderly and gullible who are falling victim, said Victor Hammill, assistant deputy commissioner with the Competition Bureau of Canada.
"There is a scam for everyone," he said. "If you think you're too smart, too young, or too cynical to get caught by scams, you just put a target on your back."
A report from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre shows that in 2013, people aged 50 to 70 lost the most money to scams, but those aged 40 to 49 weren't far behind.
Mr. Hammill said the best thing people can do to protect themselves is to be cautious and to report scams whenever they suspect them.
Here are the top 10 scams of 2014. For more information about the scams and how to protect yourself, visit go.bbb.org/BC-bbbtop10scams.
1. Top auto scam - Automotive online pricing
2. Top emotional scam - Disaster charity fraud
3. Top identity theft - Remote computer repair
4. Top social media scam - Fake Facebook friend request
5. Top romance scam - Catphishing/online dating scam
6. Top utilities scam - Fake billing
7. Top finance scam - Online affinity fraud
8. Top sales scam - Redirected robocalls
9. Top big data scam - Big box breach
10. Top ad scam - Fake online reviews