by Elizabeth Rogers
For New Pittsburgh Courier
Keep your cash out of the hands of criminals with these tips for spotting and avoiding fraud.
Fraud-related offenses are a profitable business. In fact, the RCMP’s Commercial Crime Branch estimates that fraud related crime nets between $10 and $30 billion each year in Canada.
Here, some tips to identify and prevent fraud.
1. Cut off communications.
Suspicious of a too-good-to-be-true offer or fundraising call? Don’t take chances. Delete the email, recycle the fax or letter, hang up the phone or say “no thank you” and shut the door. You can even add a few barriers to the process—like call display on your phone, a peephole in your door and a spam filter for your email.
Many people are afraid to be rude, but remember you don’t owe solicitors anything —even your time and attention.
2. Ask questions.
Sometimes it isn’t easy to tell if the request or company is legitimate or not. Crooks have been known to adopt the names of familiar organizations and pose as staff from financial institutions. Phishing emails—meant to get you to enter your financial details into an online form—are getting more realistic looking too.
Scammers would prefer you didn’t look too closely and will often try to hide their identity or provide few details about the offer in question. However, any purchase or donation deserves a little research first, and it’s your right to ask questions, request information and references and take your time to think things over.
3. Know their tactics.
There are many different kinds of scams and methods to deploy them, but you’ll notice some common threads. In addition to a lack of information, watch out for:
• Requests to pay upfront to claim a prize or apply for a job, or pay using an unsecure method like cash or money order.
• You’re asked for personal or financial information you shouldn’t give out, like your social insurance number.
• High pressure sales tactics.
• Overly emotional appeals.
• Too-good-to-be-true offers, like high pay for a job with no skills or experience required.
Want to get down to details? Check out our Fight Fraud section for more information about specific types of fraud and how you can avoid them.
4. Initiate contact.
Instead of responding to solicitations, be proactive and contact organizations yourself. For example, if you’re interested in a new long distance calling plan, reach out to companies to learn about their promotions. If you want to make a donation, contact the charity organization yourself—you’ll also help the organization to avoid costly fundraising services. When you have a plan for your money, you won’t feel guilty saying no.
5. Keep your information secret.
Losing money isn’t your only concern: your financial information can be used to commit identity fraud, and crooks find innovative ways to capture it. Worse yet, if you willingly share sensitive data like your personal identification number (PIN), you could be voiding any protection offered by your bank or credit card company.
Your best protection is to know when to share and when to keep your information to yourself. For instance:
– Employers only need your social insurance number after you’ve been hired—but employment scams ask for it upfront.
– No one needs to know your PIN, not even your bank. You shouldn’t share it with friends or family, and you should always shield the keypad when you enter it.
– Unless you’re making a purchase with a company you know and trust, don’t give out your credit card information—especially the three-digit security code on the back of your card. Avoid using unsecure methods like email or fax too.
When it’s time to get rid of unneeded documents like receipts, statements or credit card applications, make sure to destroy them before they hit the recycling bin. (A cross-cut paper shredder will do the trick.)
6. Practice safe surfing.
Scammers love new technology too, and malware can be used to track and capture your financial information. Experts recommend installing a firewall to protect your wireless network and using a virus scanner on a regular basis as protection. Beware of invitations to click on links or download free software or files—they could expose you to malware.
Also, be careful when you’re out and about as free wireless internet access and shared computers may not be as secure as you think. With very little equipment and effort, a crook can set up their own wi-fi network and capture people’s information when they mistakenly use it. Even data stored in the Internet browser of a shared computer can be useful for crooks. When in doubt, wait until you’re home to make sensitive transactions like online purchases or checking your bank statement.
7. Pay attention.
You may not know how you were caught, but you’ll soon spot the problem if you regularly check your financial statements. Promptly reporting the problem can prevent further damage and hassles. Experts also recommend ordering your free credit reports from Trans Union and Equifax each year to make sure your good name is protected.
Another sign you or someone you know has become a victim is a notable increase in calls, emails or other solicitations. Crooks are eager to repeat their success and will share and sell victims’ names.
8. Stay informed.
Do you know what scams are operating in your area, or how to prevent fraud and identity theft? In addition to breaking news, websites like Scambusters.org, The U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre all keep tabs on the latest cons and offer tips for prevention. You can also find alerts and information on company websites like your bank’s online service.
However, one method isn’t so reliable: emails. Financial institutions don’t typically email customers when there’s a problem—they call or post a fraud alert on their website. If you see an email from your bank, chances are it’s a phishing attempt.
9. Help others.
Scammers love to target certain segments of the population they deem to more vulnerable and less knowledgeable—like children and older adults. Even tech-savvy teens may not have the know-how to protect themselves from scams targeted at their age group — like talent scams, scholarship scams and sales fraud.
The best advice: talk to your loved one about ways they can avoid fraud, what scams to watch for and how to react if they’re approached by a potential crook. Experts note that when you stay involved in the lives of your children, friends and parents, you help combat the isolation and lack of knowledge that can make them targets.
10. Report it.
Sometimes despite their best efforts, people can fall prey to a sneaky scam. Unfortunately, victims are often too embarrassed or ashamed to admit they’ve been caught. While reporting the crime may not guarantee the perpetrator will be caught or that you’ll get your money back, it can go a long way to helping an investigation and warning others.
How can you report a fraud related crime? In Canada, contact the Canadian Anti- Fraud Centre through its website or call 1-888-495-8501. In the U.S., contact the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
If your personal or financial information has been compromised, you’ll also want to contact your financial institutions, the credit reporting bureaus (Trans Union, Equifax and Experian for U.S. residents) and any government institutions responsible for issuing I.D. — like your passport and driver’s license. (See Identity theft: what to do if you’re affected for more details.)