By Erin Kernohan-Berning
According to the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada Fraud Study (2021), 73 per cent of Canadians have experienced a fraud attempt, and 33 per cent have fallen victim to fraud at some time in their lives. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, so far in 2023 Canadians lost over $200 million to fraud. Most fraud since 2021 has been via electronic means, whether that’s been by phone, internet, text, social media, or email.
Scams are nothing new, and scammers have often evolved to use the tools of the day. In 300 BC a fellow named Hegestratos attempted to commit fraud when he took out a loan for his cargo using his ship as collateral, but planned to sink his emptied ship to avoid paying back the money he borrowed. Scammers who plied their trade before the telephone relied on the slowness of communication to operate, skipping one town for the next before their victims were wise to their tricks. Pre-Internet chain letter scams duped many into mailing money to strangers with the inevitably broken promise of receiving thousands of dollars in return. Today, internet, phone calls, texts, emails, and social media are the tools used for the bulk of scams Canadians are exposed to.
Technology has made many aspects of our lives easier and more efficient, but has also made many aspects of the scammer’s trade easier and more efficient. Scammers can send out large numbers of messages to potential victims, hoping to hook someone in a moment of weakness. Malicious software can be easily launched via links in texts and emails and, without us knowing, capture personal and financial information on our devices. That’s pretty scary and can make us feel helpless in an online world where it seems everyone is out to get us. But there are things we can do to keep ourselves safe and still enjoy the convenience and necessity of using technology in our daily lives.
To start, the Government of Canada has a thorough and easy to use online resource at GetCyberSafe.ca. Their website goes through everything from how to set up strong passwords, to two-factor authentication, to how to secure your devices, and even a checkup quiz to help you figure out if you should be doing more. GetCyberSafe.ca contains all the good advice for using your technology safely on one website from experts whose mission is to keep Canadians safe online. But even after you have followed the excellent advice at GetCybeSafe.ca, there are some mindset changes that can also help protect you when scammers inevitably reach out.
First, always remember that anyone can get scammed. Many scammers manipulate people into giving up personal and financial information willingly. They count on us falling for this manipulation in a moment of distractedness or stress. And no matter how clever we think we are, we all have moments where we are susceptible to being tricked. Often scammers will create a sense of urgency by telling their victims that they must provide money or information immediately or there will be some kind of consequence. The sense of urgency overrides our ability to think, and we go into action mode. But we need to take that sense of urgency and use it as a cue not to act on the demands of a stranger, but to pause and think.
Second, remember that you don’t have to be polite to scammers. If you get one of those fake calls from “Microsoft,” just hang up. You don’t even owe them a “sorry, no thank you.” If you get an unsolicited text or an email that says you need to click a link and enter your personal information, delete it. If you are followed on social media by a stranger who says they are in love with you, but can you please send them money, block and report their account. Personally, I don’t even answer my phone for unfamiliar numbers. If it’s actually important, they’ll leave a message. You are never going to hurt a scammer’s feelings; they will just move on to one of their other many potential victims.
Finally, check in with people you know. If you receive a strange email or Facebook message from someone you know, contact them about it by another means. Maybe their accounts were compromised, and they don’t know. If you are worried that a scammer did get access to your computer, talk to someone you know and trust to help you fix it. If you received a strange request from a stranger, run it by a trusted friend before you act on it. Scammers of olde were often thwarted when folks started sharing what they found out about them, and same goes for now. As a community, we create safety when we help and support one another.
If you think you have been the victim of fraud, report it at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre website: antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca.