A recent article in the popular press provides a candid reminder: “the fraud landscape is exploding...targeting anyone and everyone.”1 And, as the number of scams continues to grow, fraud has become increasingly sophisticated.
Phishing attacks, where deceptive messages fool victims into providing sensitive information, are now using multiple channels concurrently to target victims. For instance, scammers leave voicemails or texts about an email or phone call they just made to add credibility or increase the urgency of the request.2 Scammers are increasingly forming longer-term relationships with victims to build credibility. In one type of financial scam, scammers befriend victims via text or social media, and over time eventually convince them to invest using websites that look like legitimate trading platforms. Victims are then tricked into thinking their investments are making money and are encouraged to invest more. This scam was commonly associated with cryptocurrencies, but has since evolved to focus on the gold market.3
How can we protect against these rising scams? As a starting point, one expert suggests adopting the approach of: “take five, tell two.” If you are solicited by others, “take five minutes to think about it, and then talk to two different people about it before doing anything.” This can prevent us from making rash decisions. Educating ourselves and others, especially the vulnerable, is also important. Often, there are common “red flags” that indicate a scam:
• It seems too good to be true. Many financial scams offer the opportunity for quick gains. If it appears too good to be true, it likely is.
• Personal/financial information is requested. Be wary when personal information of any kind is requested or asked to be confirmed. Credible sources are unlikely to ask for this.
• There is a sense of urgency. Many scams pressure individuals to act immediately or focus on lost opportunity or penalties to evoke fear.
• There is secrecy or you are made to feel guilty. Some scams try to evoke feelings of guilt or shame; others prey on loneliness or isolation. In many cases, victims are asked to keep matters secret.
It goes without saying that we should all maintain a sense of vigilance when it comes to sharing our personal information. Not responding can be one of the best ways to stay safe. Don’t answer a call if you don’t recognize the caller; often a scammer’s goal is to find out if a phone line is active. Never respond to emails, text messages or social media requests from unknown sources. If you aren’t certain if a situation is credible, double check. An internet search can often determine if others have received similar messages/calls. Or, if a source claims to be a legitimate company, try calling a general number found on the internet.
There are tools that can add an additional layer of protection. Anti-phishing software and other cyber security tools can help protect against potential attacks. Many mobile phone companies now offer “call control” that can help screen out robo-callers or spammers.
Stay updated on evolving scams and new targeting methods. Many online resources report the latest scams and offer ways to protect against fraud:
Better Business Bureau, www.bbb.org/ca/news/scams; Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca