How to protect yourself against fraud

March is fraud prevention month. It’s an annual initiative to bring attention to what is a growing problem in Canada according to agencies like the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC).

The FCAC warns fraudsters are aggressively hunting for victims online thanks to the growing popularity of social media sites, unsecured public Internet access points and online activities like shopping, buying and selling, dating and gaming. There is a chance, if you don’t take the proper precautions, that if you enter your personal information on a public page a fraudster can use it to build a false identity that has the likeness of you.

Identity theft and fraud can be anything from someone taking out a credit card bearing your name to a more sophisticated thief walking into a bank and asking for a line of credit secured by your home!

The Most Vulnerable Groups

Most at risk in Canada of becoming a victim of identity fraud are young people under 30 and seniors over 66. Both for very different reasons.

According to Visa Canada 32 per cent of those aged 18-30 are most likely to share personal information online.  This younger group is also most likely to share sensitive details like their pin number with friends and lend their credit cards to their peers.

Meanwhile seniors are at risk because they are most likely to keep their experiences with fraud secret from friends and family. Although less likely to share personal information online, seniors are often the primary target of fraud scams – particularly fraudulent phone calls and emails designed to solicit personal and financial information.

“Canadians of all ages have bad habits that impede their ability to protect themselves against financial fraud,” said Gord Jamieson, Head of Payment System Risk, Visa Canada. “Young adults need to better understand the risks associated with over sharing personal and financial data.” Jamieson also points out the other most vulnerable group is seniors, those aged 66 and older. They need to better understand that talking about fraud with someone they trust can help protect them from becoming a victim, he says.

How to Spot a Fraudster

If its too good to be true, it probably is! Fraudsters are constantly trying new ways to get at your personal information remember, a legitimate lottery and sweepstakes administrators never charge fees to deliver a prize. Also keep in mind advertisements running on a social networking site are not necessarily credible or reliable.

When surfing online, have you visited a site offering a product or service and were impressed by the list of happy customers. Often testimonials can appear quite believable by using so-called “satisfied customers”, “celebrities”, or “experts”, but don’t always believe them.  As well, if its a “free” trial offer then you should not be required to provide a credit card number. Always remember, keep your ABM pin code secret, don’t tell anyone and don’t write it down. In many cases,  protecting yourself comes down to trusting your so called “spidey-sense” and using common sense as well. If it feels wrong, it probably is.

Recommendations to Protect Yourself Against Fraud

The Government has provided the following recommendations to protect yourself against fraud.

Be vigilant when evaluating ads, whether for a job, a product or service offered online, over the phone or in print.

Before sending money or giving credit card or account details, be sure you understand what you are agreeing to. Do not feel pressured into paying for a product or service because of threats that your credit score will be damaged.

Know who you are dealing with. Be wary of any unsolicited phone calls, emails, text messages or letters from unknown sources.

Search for the company, the individuals, the product or the offer on the Internet, and verify any contact and company details.

Read the fine print to understand what you are agreeing to, particularly in emails or online messages.

Remember that trustworthy businesses will rarely contact you by email, phone or text message to ask for personal details, banking or financial information.

Keep in mind that wiring money is like sending cash—you have no protection against loss.

Beware of offers that promise “too much”!

The FCAC says if you become a victim

  • Don’t be embarrassed to report it. Fraud can happen to anyone.
  • Start a written log: write down when you noticed the fraud and the actions you took, including names of people you spoke to and dates of communications.
  • File a report with your local police.
  • Contact your financial institutions and any other companies (for example, your phone company, cable provider, etc.) where your accounts were tampered with, or are at risk of being tampered with.
  • Advise Canada’s two credit rating agencies, TransUnion and Equifax. Ask them to put a fraud alert on your file.
  • Contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre’s national anti-fraud call centre at 1-888-495-8501 or by email at: info@antifraudcentre.ca.