Pattie Lovett-Reid: The top 5 pandemic-related scams you need to know about
TORONTO -- Are we more vulnerable to fraud due to the pandemic?
I would argue yes, we are. Fraudsters have become more intrusive and are very skillful at deciding who to target.
Criminals have always preyed on those who may be showing signs of perceived weakness. Those experiencing isolation as we enter into year two of the pandemic and others who are spending more time online shopping have not gone unnoticed by scammers.
According to Interac, the most commonly-reported scams happen over the phone (27%), via email (23%) and text scams (20%).
Yet let's be clear, these aren't your everyday scams, fraudsters have gotten more sophisticated and we all need to stay alert.
Here is what you need to watch out for:
1) Need money? No problem - consider an online loan: In this scheme, fake online loan companies request a "security deposit" before providing a loan, attributing it to the borrower's poor credit. However, loan money is never received and the security deposit is never returned.
2) Need a job? No problem - consider working from home: There are two commonly deployed job scams here. The first involves a "work from home” ad. You might be interested and respond, the target will then be asked to send money in advance for training and work supplies -- but they never get reimbursed, because the job is fake. The second example requests you to process or accept a payment from someone else. You deposit the funds into your account and then send the funds to another person or company.
Bottom line: you are accepting money from other fraud victims and being used as a mule to move money around to different accounts.
3) Are you lonely? No problem - find love online: Often referred to as a ‘romance scam,’ this isn't new, but has been on the rise with fraudsters impersonating a potential romantic match. Social media has been the vehicle of choice targeted to those vulnerable due to isolation. It typically starts with a relationship that escalates quickly and your new(ish) love asks for money for travel, or to deal with an emergency. Sadly they then disappear and the money is never repaid. The dollar amount can escalate very quickly.
4) Looking to sell some of your goods to pick up a little cash? No problem - use an online marketplace: COVID-19 has many individuals using online sites like Kijiji and Craigslist as a means to sell goods and services. The pandemic has created a shortage of goods and that in turn has opened up the opportunity for dubious individuals to create fictitous online ads, promising the availability of products or services without delivering on their promise.
5) The pandemic pet scam: There has been a huge demand for puppies and, not surprisingly, the price of a puppy has gone through the roof. Deposits on phony pups that never materialize is escalating. According to the Better Business Bureau, the average loss in 2020 was $1,045. Watch out for breeders or rescue agencies that ask for money before you have seen the puppy.
THE 3 Ss
Interac wants you to remember the 3 Ss, so you don't become a victim of a scam:
STOP: Never feel pressure to respond to a request for personal information you weren't expecting. Stop, breathe, think and follow your instincts.
SCRUTINIZE: Look closely for telltale signs of a scam and make use of online resources like the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre to stay up to date on the current scams and how to spot them.
SPEAK UP: You are not alone. If there is anything suspicious, contact the sender of the communication through a different channel to verify it's real. If you slip up and have already released sensitive personal data, contact your financial service provider.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE
My mother had a potential fraud against her bank account.
She inadvertently released personal information and immediately after doing so, realized the danger. We notified her financial institution and they were able to stop a large withdraw from her bank account, literally minutes before the attempt. This speaks to the success of speaking up quickly and asking for help to contact the right people if you need it.
March is fraud prevention month. Scammers are sophisticated and the pandemic has caused them to up their game. Let's work together and not let anyone take advantage of us financially.