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Fraud costs Canadians billions of dollars each year, experts and investigators report. Although the total numbers are difficult to determine, the value of economic-related scams such as credit and debit card fraud is alone estimated at $5 billion annually by the RCMP's Federal Serious and Organized Crime division.

With the activities of fraudsters in the Internet age ranging from identify theft to high-return email investment scams, the need for vigilance and public education has never been higher.

"Fraud threatens every Canadian," says Commissioner of Competition John Pecman, noting that Canada's Competition Bureau has promoted Fraud Prevention Month each March for the past 10 years, and devotes a significant part of its resources to fraud prevention.

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The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) provides information about financial products and services to help Canadians increase their financial knowledge and confidence in managing their personal finances.

FCAC commissioner Lucie Tedesco says the top scams reported by consumers to the federal government agency in 2013 involved credit and debit card fraud, as well as identity theft.

"In many cases, the victims are too embarrassed to tell anyone that they've been scammed," she says. "But recognizing the red flags, reporting them to the proper authorities and ultimately stopping fraud can save you, a family member or a friend from significant financial loss and headaches."

Organizations like the FCAC and the Competition Bureau have extensive online resources for consumers who are worried about becoming fraud victims. They include tips for identifying and avoiding many of the most common scams.

Other consumer-focused organizations are also doing what they can to help consumers protect themselves.

Danielle Primrose, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Mainland British Columbia, says that scams will continue to work as long as victims are unable to resist what appear to be great offers.

"Over the last few years, we've seen fraudsters becoming increasingly more professional," she says. "For example, they are using advanced technology to create personalized and real-looking fake lottery mail, or stealing familiar brands to make spam emails look more authentic."

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Nevertheless, she adds, the average consumer seems to be more aware of scams than in the past, and many are taking the initiative to raise the alarm by contacting organizations like the Better Business Bureau.

"What we tell people is that it's okay to say 'no,' and to ask for more time to think and check out the offer, says Ms. Primrose.

While scams that target individuals are often perceived as having the most serious financial impact, other types of fraud equally take money out of the pockets of Canadians. For example, while health-care fraud is often seen as "victimless," it's anything but, says Joel Alleyne, executive director of the Canadian Health Care Anti-fraud Association (CHCAA).

"People think health-care fraud is not their problem, but they need to think again," he says. "Every dollar stolen from the health-care system via fraud means one less dollar for care when it's needed."

Founded in 2000 to combat health-care fraud, waste and abuse, as well as to protect and strengthen the integrity of the Canadian health-care system, the CHCAA works with public and private sector health-care organizations to identify and stamp out fraud by health-care providers and consumers.

While health-care fraud happens in many ways, a typical example could be a clinic billing for one service yet providing something else. This could mean billing for orthotics while providing free shoes, or charging for massage therapy while providing cosmetics, says Mr. Alleyne.

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"If you are billing your insurance provider for one thing and collecting for another thing, it's fraud," he says. "We have seen people lose their jobs over fraudulent behaviour like this. In some cases, people have faced criminal charges."

The implications of health-care fraud for consumers include higher rates for benefits, because additional costs are passed on to the users of the system. It also raises the price of goods and services in the system, adds Mr. Alleyne.

"The other risk is that consumers could lose their benefits altogether," he says. "If the benefit costs skyrocket because of fraud, the benefit could be capped or removed from a plan."

SCAMS

Consumers being targeted, falling victim to phishing scams, survey finds

Internet phishing scams are nothing new, but in spite of ongoing publicity and repeated warnings, a surprising number of Canadians continue to fall for them hook, line and sinker, according to new research conducted for Visa Canada.

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Gord Jamieson, the company's head of risk services and North America acquirer risk services, says that a cross-country survey carried out in January by Pollara Strategic Insights examined the response of Canadians to phishing, which involves tricking consumers into visiting websites infected with malware or revealing personal information like their bank account details, passwords, credit card numbers and social insurance numbers.

The survey found that 84 per cent of Canadians have been targeted by phishing, Mr. Jamieson says, while a third of them have fallen victim to the scammers.

It revealed that those cases resulted in the downloading of malware (23 per cent), disclosure of personal information (5 per cent) and loss of money (4 per cent). Messages urging recipients to "act now" and "verify user names and passwords" were the most convincing, with 6 per cent of respondents acknowledging that they had clicked on fraudulent links as a result of such requests..

"Fraudsters have become more calculating in their approach," says Mr. Jamieson. "For example, our survey showed more seniors are targeted by home phone, which is their preferred mode of communication, while young people are targeted through social media engines and by email and text."

The survey had a number of other notable findings:

• Young Canadians are most prone to phishing, with 92 per cent of those under 35 confirming they have been targeted.

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• 38 per cent of seniors receive phishing messages by home phone.

• B.C. residents receive the most phishing messages, at 89 per cent.

• Quebecers receive the fewest phishing messages, at 77 per cent. They are also the most likely to inadvertently download malware, at 31 per cent.

• 87 per cent of Ontarians combat phishing by deleting or simply not responding to it.

• Albertans receive the most phishing scams by text, at 27 per cent.

• Residents of Atlantic Canada receive the most home phone phishing messages. They are the least likely to reply to messages urging them to "act now."

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• 25 per cent of Prairie residents always report phishing scams, the highest among the provinces.

Mr. Jamieson says criminals are constantly looking for new ways to trick consumers into handing over their personal or financial information, and Canadians are inundated with phishing emails.

In some cases, he says, messages that mention personal details like job titles and family situations may entice recipients to respond and inadvertently open the door to computer malware, which transfers further personal details to the fraudsters.

While Visa investigates all potential phishing scams involving the company and works with anti-phishing organizations and law enforcement agencies to protect consumers, Mr. Jamieson says consumers can also help themselves.

"In addition to being aware of the warning signs of scams and remaining vigilant, Canadians should report all suspicious messages to the authorities," he says.

According to the research conducted for Visa, only 48 per cent of Canadians who receive phishing-related communications report them to the authorities. Of those who don't report, two-thirds say they would do so if they knew how.

"We need to arm Canadians with the knowledge and tools they need to recognize and fight phishing and to report it," says Mr. Jamieson.

Peter Cassidy, secretary general of the Anti-Phishing Working Group, a global coalition set up to combat cybercrime across industry, government and law enforcement, says Canadians should report suspicious messages and notify the appropriate financial institutions.

"It's almost instinctive to delete suspicious email," he says. "However, in addition to knowing how to avoid phishing scams, reporting a phishing scam is equally important, and means you are helping other consumers from becoming victims."

ADVICE

Visa’s Tips to Fight Phishing

• Consider all email requests for personal information to be suspicious. Consider all unsolicited text messages, robocalls and postal mail requesting personal information to be suspicious.

• Do not reply to any email that requests your personal information. Remember, Visa does not contact cardholders to request their personal account information.

• Look for misspelled words and bad grammar – these are often indications of fraudulent emails.

• Always report phishing or ‘spoofed’ emails to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (info@antifraudcentre.ca), APWG.org (reportingphishing@apwg.org) or the financial institution that it appears to be from.

• If you receive a phishing email that appears to come from Visa, forward it to phishing@visa.com. Be wary of hyperlinks and avoid clicking them. A single click can cause your computer to become infected, and there may not always be visual clues of a compromise.

• A good rule of thumb when you’re banking online: always look for the “lock” icon and an https:// connection to be sure you have a safe connection.

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The increasing variety and complexity of phishing scams means it’s more important than ever for consumers to be on the alert for fraud, says Visa Canada. (PHOTO: VISA)

 

Canadian Securities Administrators

Securities regulators from each province and territory have teamed up to form the Canadian Securities Administrators, or CSA for short. The CSA is primarily responsible for developing a harmonized approach to securities regulation across the country.

www.securities-administrators.ca

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