By:Brent Jolly, Special to the Star: Published on Mon Jan 12 2015
High-tech criminals have become experts at online scamming; According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, 11 of the top 20 kinds of fraud involve the Internet.
While social insurance numbers, health cards or simply a name and address remain the timeworn treasures of identity thieves, industry experts expect the scale and complexity of scams will continue to rise in 2015, particularly in the digital world.
“Over the last few years we have seen a sharp increase in digital skullduggery,” says Daniel Williams, a senior call-taker supervisor with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) in North Bay, ON.
“The Internet has helped scammers get information from consumers a lot cheaper and easier,” he says. “Right now, the sky is the limit.”
According to current CACF statistics, 11 of the top 20 kinds of fraud involve the Internet. Williams says the No. 1 fraud is what he calls the “Microsoft virus scan” scam.
In this case, fraudsters swindle unsuspecting computer owners by calling them and claiming to be from a company, such as Microsoft, who need to repair and error on your personal computer. Once they have access to your computer, your digital security has been compromised, Williams says.
“These scammers are incredibly skilled and a lot of ingenuity is put into their schemes,” he says, “and they are richly rewarded for it.”
Jennifer Fiddian-Green, a forensic accountant with Toronto-based Grant Thornton LLP, agrees with Williams. She says that consumers need to be aware that identity theft and fraud have become significantly more complex.
In particular, Fiddian-Green says many criminals are now attempting to impersonate private business owners through emails to their own staff. For example, she says cyber criminals will send emails to chief financial officers, or whoever manages the company’s corporate bank account, by pretending to be an executive who needs to wire money to pay a client.
“These emails are remarkably assembled, personal,” says Fiddian-Green, “and look exactly like real ones that would be sent within a firm.”
Her best advice? Look for tell-tale signs in the email, such as an extra letter or period that is out of place. Also, be sure to ask questions to make sure you know who you are dealing with.
“A lot of what scammers are doing right now will continue to be successful,” says Daniel Williams. “There is no reason to believe they will stop using techniques like phishing emails, or bogus websites.”
In particular, he says recent immigrants to Canada are vulnerable because they might be intimidated if they get an email from their bank or the Canada Revenue Agency saying that they owe money.
He recommends that before taking any action, consumers take 15 minutes and do their homework.
“It doesn’t matter how clever the bad guys are, 15 minutes of research will always reveal the scam.”