Fraudsters are impersonating politicians online to scam Canadians
In this Monday, June 4, 2012, file photo, a woman looks at Facebook on her computer in Palo Alto, Calif. (AP / Paul Sakuma)
Published Friday, July 12, 2019 5:12PM EDT
Politicians across party lines, including at least three cabinet ministers, have had their identities used by fraudsters on social media, which includes at least one case where a politician's name was used for a monetary scam.
"We are aware of these instances in recent weeks that have [affected] MPs across party lines, and we continue to remain vigilant," said Families, Children and Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos' office in a statement e-mailed to CTV News.
Duclos was just one minister who had his photo and information mimicked on social media. Rural Economic Development Minister Bernadette Jordan, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Liberal MP Anthony Rota were also targeted, their offices confirmed to CTV News.
The Conservative party confirmed that roughly a dozen Tory MPs have also flagged fake Facebook accounts using their names. Simon Jeffries, a spokesperson for the Conservatives, said the accounts were reported to Facebook and swiftly taken down.
A government source familiar with the matter also confirmed that in one case, a minister’s likeness was used in a conversation that mentioned money – although the fake account did not explicitly ask for funds.
Rota also confirmed that in his case, his likeness was used to try to squeeze money out of Canadians.
"I got some messages from friends on Facebook telling me that they had strange messages and one of them…had told him they had some funding grants, but they needed money from them," said Rota.
"Normally MPs don't go after other people and ask for money through websites, or they don’t contact through Facebook."
Rota said he reported the account to Facebook and it was taken down the next day. Jordan and Bennett also confirmed that they reported the fraudulent account immediately.
"Our office does not use Facebook Messenger and we encourage those who receive any suspicious communications to report it to Facebook," said Bennett's office in a statement emailed to CTV News.
Jordan's office also recommended that citizens "remain vigilant" and develop an understanding of "common online deceptive tactics like phishing or trolling."
It's a message that Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould's spokesperson Margaret Jaques echoed.
"The best defence against threats to democracy remains an engaged and informed public," said Jaques.
"As we have seen, social media platforms have been manipulated to spread disinformation and create confusion within their communities."
Jaques said her office has put in measures to "build citizen resilience against disinformation" and to make sure politicians can "prepare for, respond to [and] mitigate election interference."
"We also included a new provision in the Elections Modernization Act (Bill C-76) to prohibit communications during an election period that intends to mislead the public as to whether the material was made by a political entity," Jaques said.
However, she said it isn't an offence to satirize or parody a politician.
Gould's office has also released a Declaration on Electoral Integrity Online, which includes a commitment from social media platforms – like Facebook – to remove fake accounts and content from their platforms.
Some MPs also posted on social media about the issue to warn their constituents. Women and Gender Equality Minister Maryam Monsef sent out a tweet identifying that there has been "an increase in social media accounts impersonating Members of Parliament" in recent weeks.
Rota also posted a warning on his Facebook page.
"Scammers have been impersonating Members of Parliament by creating Facebook Messenger accounts and messaging Canadians," he wrote.
Rota's post goes on to warn Canadians about how they can identify and report a scam account.
This isn't the first instance of politicians running into issues with malicious actors on social media. In January, CTV News reported that Conservative Senator Linda Frum's Twitter account was hacked. Those responsible shared personal information and used racial slurs in tweets.
Conservative Senator Don Plett also had his Twitter account hacked in late October, although his hackers opted to share their thoughts on the feud between popular female rap artists Nicki Minaj and Cardi B rather than Plett's personal information. They also changed his profile photo to one of a muscular, heavily tattooed young man.
As Canadians and politicians alike navigate this new online threat, Rota has one piece of advice.
"If it looks too good to be true, it likely is," Rota said.