Stopping frauds and scams starts with recognizing the signs

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As part of Hanna Detachment’s crime prevention strategy, we would like to share information with the community about common fraud schemes that are commonly seen in Canada.  By sharing this information, we hope to prevent Hanna and area residents from becoming victims in these costly crimes.  Here are some common types of frauds and scams; some of which we’ve seen reported at our detachment:

You’ve “won” a prize or windfall

In this scenario, the victim receives an unsolicited email, phone call, text, or other communication advising them that they have won a lottery, sweepstakes, or contest.  There’s just one small problem; you’ll be asked to pay a small “fee”, “tax” or other sum of money in order to collect the prize.  Once the victim pays the money, the scammer is never heard from again.  Some scammers are brazen enough that they will actually come up with another reason why the victim needs to pay more.  This continues on until the victim figures out that they’ve been scammed.  To avoid such scams, you should ask yourself whether you actually previously entered into any sort of contest.  It is also important to remember that you should never pay any money to collect on a prize that someone claims you’ve already “won”.

Another variation of this scam is money transfer requests – Most of us have received unsolicited emails from a person claiming to be in the possession of a large amount of money that they need to move out of their home country due to some sort of emergency, and they just so happen to want to give it to you.  Another version is that they claim to believe that you are related to a long lost rich relative whom they want to connect an inheritance to.  These are all bogus, and a legitimate legal firm does not seek out heirs via these means.

Another form of this scheme is an “overpayment” scam, typically perpetrated on a victim who is selling something, often online.  The fraudster agrees to buy the item, and provides a fake payment to the victim.  This may come in the form of a fraudulent cheque or bank draft that arrives in the mail, in an amount that is far above what the original selling price was.  The fraudster tells the victim it was an accidental mistake to send that much, and asks for the difference back.  Once this is completed, the victim soon discovers that the entire original payment was fake to begin with.  They may only realize this when their bank calls them to tell them that the cheque the seller provided was fake or fraudulent.

Canada Revenue Agency impersonation

Most of us have received unsolicited phone calls with automated voice messages telling us that we owe money to the Canada Revenue Agency, and that there is a warrant for our arrest.  Victims who remain on the line to speak with the scammer are then told that in order to settle  their tax debt, they need to pay up to avoid arrest.  Typically the culprit will demand payment via some sort of difficult to trace means – sometimes even by telling the victim to buy gift cards and then asking for the barcode access numbers on the back.  The Canada Revenue Agency never operates this way with back-taxes, and if you do have concerns about any unpaid taxes you may have, you should hang up, and contact the Canada Revenue Agency directly via their phone number listed on the CRA website (1-800-959-8281).

Pyramid and ponzi schemes

These frauds are often disguised as business ventures, where victims are approached about a business or investment “opportunity” and are asked to pay a fee to join the venture.  In order for the victim to make any money, the initiator of the scam tells the victim to recruit other people to join, who must also pay some sort of fee.  These schemes often offer unusually high investment returns.  One of the insidious aspects of pyramid and ponzi schemes is that the victim may be encouraged to join the scheme by a well-meaning friend or family member.  If you receive an unsolicited offer to become involved in an investment or business opportunity, be very careful, and speak with an independent investment advisor.

Let me help you with your computer

In this scam, the victim receives some sort of pop-up message, typically in their internet browser, telling them there is a problem with their computer, and to call a particular phone number.  The scammer will usually fraudulently identify themselves as a representative of a large software company and ask for remote access to the victim’s computer, where they then install malicious ransomware or find “problems” on the victim’s computer that requires payment to “correct”.  The most popular theme of this scam is in relation to antivirus software.  Never give someone remote access to your computer.

Another common computer or smartphone scam is ID and password phishing, where the victim receives a text message or email from the scammer posing as a representative of a company that the victim might use.  The message requests that the victim log into their account via a link that the scammer sends in the message, which is actually a website run by the scammer that collects your username and password.  Once collected, the scammer will log into the real company’s website using your log in information and extract any useful information they can find.  This is particularly dangerous with banking website impersonation, because the scammer can then transfer money out of the victim’s bank account(s).

It’s (not) an emergency 

These types of scams usually come via a telephone call and usually target the elderly.  The scammer will pose as a relative, like a grandchild, and tell the victim that they are in some sort of trouble (in jail, in an accident, etc) and that they need some money quickly.  Alternatively, the scammer will pose as an official, like a foreign police agent, hospital staff member, etc.  The victim will be told to send money via some sort of difficult to trace method, such as e-transfer, money order, or gift card purchases that have electronic codes, or crypto-currency.  In these sorts of situations, the victim should not give any money via these methods and should consult with a family member or close friend of whoever the caller is pretending to be.

Romance scams

In these types of scams, a victim is lured online by a scammer who provides communications and photos that indicate that they are in love with the victim.  At some point, the scammer will ask for money, for any number of reasons; perhaps money for plane tickets to visit the victim, or in order to pay for some other expenses.  The scammer will continue to ask for more money for new reasons until eventually the victim stops paying.

What to do if you’ve been victimized

Many of these frauds originate outside of the country, which can make them difficult to investigate and prosecute, but it is important to report any instances where you have given money or information in a suspected fraud.  The Hanna RCMP can provide advice on the next steps to take if you have been subjected to one of these frauds.  Please contact the Hanna RCMP at 403-854-3393 for more information if you think you may have been a victim.

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