Unscrupulous characters lurk almost everywhere these days. From unsolicited phone calls and bogus wire transfers to emails designed to get you to surrender your personal information, it seems there are more ways than ever for criminals to run their scams.

But you don’t have to be a victim. Here we outline the most common scams we’ve encountered, along with some helpful tips to safeguard your personal information and keep your money in your bank account.

Phishing Scams

Phishing, also called “brand spoofing”, is the creation of email messages and web pages that are replicas of existing, legitimate sites and businesses. These web sites and emails are used to trick users into submitting personal, financial, or password data. These emails often ask for information such as credit card numbers, bank account information, social insurance numbers, and passwords.

Brand spoofing is designed to lead you to believe that a request for information is coming from a legitimate company. In reality it is a malicious attempt to collect customer information for the purpose of committing fraud.

Warning sign(s) –

  • Look for misspelled words in the email
  • Look for unnatural language that may indicate the email was written by someone who is unfamiliar with the English language
  • Beware of notices to change your password, reinstate your account or lift a hold on your credit line that are accompanied by a request for personal identifying information

 How to protect yourself

  • Do not reply to any email that requests your personal information.
  • Contact the financial institution immediately to let them know about the email you received.
  • Always report phishing to the CAFC.

Wire Fraud

One type of wire fraud currently targeting businesses is the Business Executive Scam (BES) which is a type of phishing. The potential victim receives an email that appears to come from their employer’s human resources or technical support department.

Fraudsters create email addresses that mimic the addresses of the real departments. An email message will often be sent to the accounting department advising that the “executive” is working off-site and has identified an outstanding payment that needs to be made as soon as possible. The “executive” instructs the payment to be made and provides a name and a bank account where the funds, generally a large dollar amount, are to be sent. Losses are typically in excess of $100,000.

Financial industry wire frauds occur when Canadian financial institutions and investment brokers receive fraudulent email requests from what they believe to be an existing client. Unbeknownst to them, the email account of their client has been compromised. A request is sent by the fraudster to the financial institution/investment broker to have money transferred from “their” bank account, usually to a foreign bank account.

Warning sign(s)

  • Watch for spelling and formatting errors and be wary of clicking on any attachments that can contain viruses and spyware.
  • Beware of unsolicited emails from individuals or financial institutions presenting an urgent situation requiring immediate attention.

How to protect yourself

  • Prior to sending any funds or product, make contact with existing clients in person or by telephone to confirm that the request is legitimate.

Phone Number Spoofing

If you get a call and the call display shows the phone number 123-456-7890 or 777-777-7778 (or any other strange combination of numbers), be wary.

These phone numbers are examples of numbers that have been programmed into the system so your call display indicates a different number than the originator’s. Although this does not mean the offer you are receiving is illegal, you should certainly exercise caution. After all, why would a legitimate company try to obscure their identity?

Automated Dialers

The phone is ringing but no one is there when you answer.

Your phone may have a technical problem, but you may also be receiving a call from an automatic dialer that logs the time the phone is answered. Telemarketers then use this information to determine when a person will be at your number to answer the phone.

For more information on Automatic Dialers you can research the CRTC web site.

Unsolicited Service Calls

These scams typically involve third parties that make offers for telecommunications, internet, finance, medical and energy services. This category of scams may also include, but is not limited to, offers such as extended warranties, insurance and sales services.

If you have received an unsolicited telephone offer or a card in the mail you should use the “buyer beware” philosophy. Educate yourself before you act on any offer.

Warning sign(s)

  • Credit card charges from foreign banks appearing on your statement ranging from $35.00 to $469.00.
  • Offers are often poorly worded. Read over it again. Does it make sense? Is it realistic?

How to protect yourself

  • Do you already have an existing warranty?
  • Have you checked with your car dealership?
  • Research the offer and company on the internet.

Unsolicited Computer Repair Services

Generally, this scheme involves company representatives calling individuals and stating, for example, that it is Microsoft calling and that your computer is running slow or has viruses. They offer to repair the computer over the internet, which can involve the installation of software or the customer allowing the representative remote access to their computer.

Recent variations being reported to the CAFC have involved the suspects identifying themselves as the Canadian Cyber Incident Response Centre. These suspects have taken a more aggressive approach with individuals by stating their computer is being used by hackers and that they will be held responsible if they do not allow the suspect to repair their computer.

Allowing a third party to download software or remotely access a computer carries inherent risks. Keyloggers or other malicious software could be installed to capture sensitive data such as online banking user names and passwords, bank account information, identity information, etc.

Warning sign(s)

  • Unsolicited calls from callers representing a computer repair company (e.g. Microsoft) or indicating that it is the Canadian Cyber Incident Response Centre.
  • A caller requesting remote access to your computer or for you to view your event viewer.
  • Urgent solicitations indicating there is a threat to your computer.

How to protect yourself

  • Protect your computer with anti-virus software, spyware filters, email filters and firewall programs.
  • Don’t allow the caller to access your computer remotely or install any software they suggest.
  • Research the company with the Better Business Bureau and other sources from the internet.

Unsolicited Vacation Offers

You may receive a phone call about a special deal on a dream vacation. If you have not requested information then “buyer beware” should be your thought process. Don’t fall for a high pressure sales tactic. If it’s a deal, it will be available again. If it is a prize, you need not pay for it.

If a caller asks you to press a number like “9” or “5” it does not allow them to take over your residential line.

How to protect yourself

  • Understand that some of the solicitations are valid, some are not.
  • Some offers are subject to you entering into a Timeshare agreement.
  • Some offer a high end vacation but reserve the right to change the location, subject to availability.

Unsolicited Travel Offers

By simply filling out a ballot to win a vacation at a home, boat or auto show, you may be setting yourself up on a “sucker list”. Shortly after filling out this ballot, you may be contacted over the phone by someone claiming to offer you a “free” or “low cost” vacation. They will ask for your credit card number and personal information in order to hold the vacation for you, or they may request money in advance.

Don’t give out your credit card information over the phone. If you want to check out the value of these promises, seek out the advice of a legitimate travel agency in your area. If you have provided credit card information to the telemarketers, be aware that most companies have policies that allow you to cancel your reservation within 30 days. Do not let anyone to pressure you into committing to any agreement over the phone.

As you can see, there are many ways that scammers can attempt to deceive you, steal your personal information, or convince you to spend your money. The tactics outlined above, along with a healthy dose of skepticism will go a long way to keeping you from becoming a scammer’s next victim. Remember that if an offer seems fishy it probably is. Learn to trust your instincts and keep your guard up at all times.

If you would like more information on best practices to keep your network and computers safe, Technical Action Group is here for you. Just call us at 416-489-6312.