Romance scams, CRA calls top fraud list across Canada

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The scams may not have changed much, but the scammers behind them — idling in cyberspace or across phonelines — have become more sophisticated and aggressive resulting in massive losses for the Canadian public.

With the release of its annual top 10 scams list, the Better Business Bureau of Vancouver Island revealed last year Canadians lost more than $121 million to scammers. That’s an increase from the $95 million reported in 2017.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, according to Rosalind Scott, chief executive of the BBBVI, who noted only a small fraction of people actually report being scammed.

“So mulitply [the losses], these are huge sums,” she said.

“People are really embarrassed to report it. They just feel so silly and that they should have known better.”

Scott said that may be the case, but those people are not alone, as many have clicked on the wrong link online, been taken in by promises of easy wins or been duped by a would-be companion.

According to the bureau, the percentage of victims that actually come forward to report the crime is less than 10%, and the BBB suggests actual losses could be in excess of $3 billion a year.

Scott said the scams vary, but there are some common threads — they feed into either the fear factor in the case of email extortion scams, or greed in the case of sweepstakes scams.

And always, the scammers stress that acting immediately is vital.

Scott said the scammers are hoping they can get you to act rather than think.

“I always tell people that unless the house is on fire or there’s a medical emergency nothing has to be done that second,” she said.

Topping this year’s top 10 list were “romance scams,” which accounted for losses in excess of $22.5 million.

According to the BBB, this kind of scam can be carried out over online dating sites and carries the additional shot of emotional and psychological pain on top of the financial loss.

“Not only do you lose money, but you go through supreme humiliation, lose your self-respect and your self-worth — those are enormous losses,” she said.

The bureau’s tips to avoid falling victim to a romantic robber include never transferring money to people you have never met, be wary of tales of hardship or family emergencies from people you are starting to get to know and it’s a red flag when those people say they are unable to meet in person.

An old favourite was No. 2 on this year’s list. Income tax extortion scams cost Canadians $6 million last year.

It can come via email, text or phone call and usually says the Canada Revenue Agency is demanding money and wants immediate payment, sometimes in Bitcoin or through gift cards.

The BBB notes that the CRA does not make threatening phone calls or request personal information over the phone or by email, and it suggests deleting texts and emails claiming to be from the CRA.

Danielle Primrose, chief executive of the BBB on the Lower Mainland, pointed out there’s a scam for everyone.

“Scams are evolving. They are more aggressive, devastating, convincing.

“Scammers are bolder than ever, which is why we need to keep informed and take proactive steps to protect our information and finances,” she said.

The rest of the list includes online purchase scams that use fake websites, employment scams, a variety of phishing scams that use fake invoices, subscription scams that go from free trial to large monthly charges with no notice, advance fee loans, tech support scams that remotely take control of your computer, cut-rate home improvement scams and banking scams that suggest there has been fraudulent activity on your account.

Scott said phishing and blackmail scams seem to be in vogue in the Greater Victoria region right now, though they have also seen letter campaigns using very real looking TD Canada Trust letterhead requesting information and emails claiming to be from Netflix saying payment has not been received.

She advises people should read these things carefully, often the small print will give away the scam, and always report the scams you come across.

Times Colonist