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Protect yourself from fraud: ‘Recognize, reject, report’

Former economic crimes detective speaks to Bashaw residents
James MacDonald, Servus Credit Union senior manager of corporate security, gives a presentation on fraud in Bashaw on April 22. (Emily Jaycox/Bashaw Star)

In this digital day and age, there are always evolving strategies and technologies fraudsters will employ but they’re all aimed at one thing: your bank account.

All it takes is clicking on a fraudulent link or posting about your birthday on social media, and a criminal could access your device to find your banking credentials or guess your password based on the information you shared online.

“Unfortunately we, as a society, give them access to that information because so much of our life is online now,” said James MacDonald Servus Credit Union senior manager of corporate security.

MacDonald said although online banking is a secure way to manage your finances, it takes some security savvy to protect your devices so scammers can’t get access to your accounts.

MacDonald, who is a retired detective from the Edmonton Police Service’s economic crimes division, came to Bashaw on April 22 to speak at a fraud seminar hosted by the Bashaw and District Chamber of Commerce at the Bashaw Ag Centre.

The most prevalent types of scams are: the grandparent scams (grandson needs bail), investment scams, lottery scams, bank investigation scams, Canada Revenue Agency scams, border services/Canada Post scams (claiming an illegal package is being shipped to you), computer access/tech scams, romance scams and online buy and sell scams.

It’s scam artist’s goal to continue to steal and they don’t care if their target will be in financial ruin or not, said MacDonald.

If you pay a fraudster once, they’re likely to share your information with other criminals and you will continue to be a target, he added.

In tech scams, a caller will claim their is compromising information on your computer or other reason they need access, and will screen share images that makes it look legitimate. Once you give then access, they will then install key logging malware that aims to capture your passwords for your banking information.

Scammers will play on your emotions, such as fear, embarrassment and greed. Other tactics they will use include pressure, urgency and convincing you to keep the situation a secret in order to manipulate you.

In romance scams, the fraudsters will groom their victims, often for months, making all kinds of declarations and promises, before a crisis inevitably arrives and they ask for money.

MacDonald said these are some of the saddest types of scams he sees.

“Y0u know the old adage love in blind? Well it truly is sometimes.”

If you willingly send money to a scammer, chances are high you won’t be seeing that money again. Banks are only able to make “best efforts” to recover your funds, before you’ll need to go to the police to see if anything else can be done.

Warning signs

Sometimes people become so invested in the scam, that they can’t or won’t see that they’ve been victimized, he said.

Some red flags to look out for include any unsolicited email, text, phone call or mail.

Be aware of anyone insisting they stay on the phone with you while you withdraw money from your account, at their instruction.

If the person is asking for payment through gift cards, wire transfer, e-transfer, Bitcoin ATM, or meeting in a parking lot, these are all red flags.

General tips

If you don’t recognize a phone number as one of your saved contacts, MacDonald recommends letting it go to voicemail.

A bank may ask for personal information over the phone to verify your identity, but they will never ask for your online banking username and password, said MacDonald.

Consider adding alerts to your credit cards so you’ll know right away if someone else is using them.

MacDonald also recommends only going out with one or two cards and leaving the rest at home, and using one, low-limit card for online purchases. Never store your PIN near your card.

Good cyber security includes having unique passwords for all the financial institutions you use, and locking all your devices with a password, biometrics or another method.

It’s also a good idea to use a different method to send a security question answer to an intended recipient than the one you sent the transfer with.

Never save online banking passwords on your devices so they auto populate when you go to login.

On your social media platforms, ensure your security settings are at friends only, not friends of friends.

If you become a victim of fraud

“You’re not alone if you’ve fallen victim,” said MacDonald.

According to stats provided in his presentation, as of Sept. 30, 2021, there were 56,577 reports of fraud in Canada that year, amounting to $163 million lost to fraud.

MacDonald said that only an estimated five to 10 per cent of fraud is actually reported.

When you consider those stats are for Canada alone and only the fraud that was reported, the actual number, on a world wide scale, is staggering, he said.

The general rule when it comes to mass market fraud is “recognize, reject, report.”

If you believe your devices or banking information has been compromised, first notify your bank and then tell the police.

If a popup about malware shows up on your computer, shut it off and take it to a reputable company for a diagnosis and a professional deep clean. Do not log in to your online banking account while you suspect your device has been compromised.

If you get a call you’re unsure about, hang up, search for their number or look at the number listed on the back of your card and call the company directly.

Remember, scammers can spoof phone numbers so a company name showing on your caller I.D. is not enough to verify the caller is legitimate.

If you have been the victim of fraud, report it to Equifax or TransUnion. They will flag your credit information with the police case file number and this will prevent someone opening accounts or applying for credit in your name.

Emily Jaycox

About the Author: Emily Jaycox

I'm a reporter for Ponoka News and have lived in Ponoka since 2015.
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