The head of the organization that regulates Canada’s telecom industry, who works with the RCMP to stop communications scams, has revealed that a fraudster faked his e-mail address and sent messages to his staff telling them to go out and buy thousands of dollars of gift cards.
Ian Scott, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, told MPs that the fraudster’s e-mails, which purported to be from him, were part of an attempt to extort money from employees.
On Thursday, Mr. Scott told the Commons Industry and Technology (INDU) committee, which is carrying out an inquiry into fraudulent calls, that this is just one type of scam used by fraudsters to trick people into sending them money.
“They are very quick. Some of them are very sophisticated,” he said. “I have had employees with e-mails from me apparently. I don’t usually ask people to go out and buy thousands of dollars of iTunes cards.”
He said a different scam had tried to extort funds to cover fake municipal contracts.
“CRTC staff have been targeted by phishing campaigns in the past,” Patricia Valladao, a CRTC spokesperson, said in an e-mail. “We are confident that these campaigns have not been successful at the CRTC.
“However, we have since put in place safeguards that identify emails originating from outside the CRTC, upgraded our IT security tools and conducted awareness campaigns for staff.”
Ms. Valladao did not offer details of the gift-card fraud. She said it had happened “a while ago.”
Mr. Scott said he is working with the RCMP, the telecom industry, cyberspies at the Communications Security Establishment and a number of federal departments, including the Canada Revenue Agency, to warn Canadians about fraud.
Fraudsters, he said, “are clever and they are very quick to take advantage of public announcements.”
In July, immediately after Rogers announced it was compensating customers after a widespread outage, a new fraud emerged, Mr. Scott said. The scammers tried to extort money from Rogers customers by pretending the payments were linked to the refunds. Other frauds were introduced soon after announcements of rebates by the CRA.
In his comments to the committee, the CRTC chairman said fraudsters are “very opportunistic,” and that seniors are particularly vulnerable. He added that he gives his elderly mother “a lot of advice about what to answer and what not to answer.”
On Monday, Guy Paul Larocque, the acting officer in charge of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, told MPs on the committee that “fraudsters do like to target seniors. They are an easy target.”
A scammer might claim that a family member is injured or in trouble and in urgent need of funds, he said. The fraudsters try to instill a sense of panic and urgency to convince seniors there will be dire consequences if they don’t send funds immediately.
Online and phone fraud are growing exponentially, and are now at record levels, a number of witnesses told the committee.
John Mecher, a retired RCMP fraud investigator who continues to help victims of fraud, said that despite the scale of extortion and scams, the RCMP and the federal government do not see fraud and fraud awareness as a top priority.
“We are seeing losses completely off the charts from what we were seeing 10 years ago,” he said.
Randall Baran-Chong, co-founder of a group called Canadian SIM-Swap Victims United, which advocates for people who have fallen victim to a particular type of phone-based scam, called for Canada to adopt security measures introduced in Australia to authenticate identity, which he said would make it harder for fraudsters to steal confidential information on people’s cellphones.
He said many victims of this type of fraud “do not feel heard.”
NDP MP Brian Masse, who sits on the committee, said the damage caused by phone fraud and online scams, including the loss of seniors’ life savings, could ruin lives. He said tackling and preventing such criminality needs to be a higher priority.
“Canadians need to unite and be pro-active on fighting fraud, as we can make a difference immediately with education and action,” Mr. Masse told The Globe and Mail.
Apple has warned its customers to be aware of scams, including those that ask people to buy gift cards for iTunes. One scam, it warned, involves asking victims to pay by sharing gift-card codes with fraudsters.