Spot these sneaky scams to avoid fraud 

How to avoid fraud and hacker attacks, from email to phone and cryptocurrency scams, including what to do if you’re a victim.

How to spot signs of an online

From applying for a mortgage to streaming music and movies, your digital trail is a treasure trove of information for fraudsters looking to steal your personal data. While you might be aware of best practices for safeguarding your personal and financial information online, it’s easy to become complacent or slip up when you’re in a hurry.  

With that in mind, here are some signs of online scams and what to do if you get caught up in one. 

Signs of an email scam 

Some emails are obvious spam, filled with odd spelling, weird sender addresses and plenty of eye-catching emojis. But there are other email scams that have sneakier tactics. 

What might happen: A company you’ve purchased something from in the past, or do business with, appears to send you an email with an urgent message. They ask you to verify personal information, act on a limited-time offer or click on a link to confirm something with them.  

What you should do: Before you jump to react, stop and look at the sender’s email address. Does it look right? Do you know them enough to trust them?    

  • Before you click any links in the email, go to the company’s official website. If you can’t find information there to confirm the details in the email, it might be a scam and you should keep your personal information private.  

  • Use the company’s secure login through their app or website to update your account instead of clicking links in the email. Email links that require you to divulge confidential information can be suspicious.  

  • When in doubt, you can call the company to check. However, get their number from their site or a trusted source, and not from the suspicious email. 

Signs of a phone scam  

You’ve likely answered the phone at some point and heard a recorded call about winning a prize, or getting your house’s air ducts cleaned, or maybe even greeted by a recording from border control services. When unexpected, these scams can take you by surprise.  

What might happen: A call comes in and the caller is threatening legal action against you. Perhaps they say they’re from a government agency and that if you do not pay them soon, you’ll be in big trouble. They may keep calling if you’re a target, coerce you not to tell anyone, and could even demand payment by cryptocurrency. 

The scenario scammers present to you is unlikely to happen the way they threaten. Federal services such as the government's Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada department and the Canada Revenue Agency will never demand payment from you over the phone.  

What you should do: Never give the person any personal details, and don’t feel obligated to stay on the phone or even answer an unknown or suspicious call in the first place. 

  • You can hang up immediately, especially if the caller seems suspicious or threatening. 

  • Or you can ask for the name and agent number of the caller, then hang up and phone the government call centre. 

  • Find accurate phone numbers listed on the government’s official web page called “Slam the Scam.”  

  • Never call a phone number that the suspected scammer gives you since it may go to a phony call centre.  

  • Never follow through with any actions such as depositing money into a cryptocurrency ATM based on a suspicious phone call.  

  • Remember that you have the right in Canada to speak with authorities and seek professional counsel, even if you are contacted by government officials. Do not let scammers tell you otherwise. 

Signs of a rental home scam 

Many online marketplaces and social networks list homes for sale and rental properties. Popular sites like Kijiji, Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are reputable, but scammers can lurk within the listings. 

What might happen: A rental property in your price range has become available. The photos in the ad look great and you know the place will go fast. The landlord sends you an application and asks for a deposit immediately. 

What you should do: Before you send any money, pause and double-check the situation. Do they want you to send money through an electronic transfer without you even touring the home?  

  • Know the scam: Criminals are targeting people moving to new cities or in other situations where they won’t be viewing the property in person. Renters send a deposit and first month’s rent in advance, then arrive ready to move in, only to find the place occupied by the real homeowners who have no idea what’s going on.  

  • Do your research about the rental and the property management company.  

  • Do not share your personal information or money with anyone who can’t show you the rental space.  

  • If you can’t be there to see it or find someone you trust who can, consider using short-term accommodation in your new city until you can view homes in person.  

Signs of a cryptocurrency romance scam 

If you’re looking for love online, you could end up getting to know scammers a little too well. While you don’t have to shut down your profiles, just know the signs—including when the conversation comes to cryptocurrency. 

South of the border, recent reports show that grifters convinced “love interests” to invest or trade cryptocurrency, and they lost over $133 million in the process! And in this digital world, scammers don’t have borders. Closer to home, in just eight months over 2021, British Columbians lost $3.5 million from crypto investment scams, and in Ontario, two women reported losing more than $100,000 in similar scams.  

What might happen: You meet someone on a dating app and get to chatting. They’re nice, smart, funny and take an interest in you. After a while, they also tell you they know a lot about cryptocurrency and ways to invest to make money. They even offer to help you invest your money so you can profit, too! 

What you should do: Although many people are interested in cryptocurrency and potential romantic matches can legitimately be great at investing, be wary of those who push too hard for you to invest.  

  • Don’t send money to someone or invest based on the advice of someone you met only online. 

  • Don’t give anyone your personal information including your SIN number, passport number or banking information. 

  • Remember that if an online investment or cryptocurrency platform is promoting profits that are wildly shocking, it might be fake. 

  • Don’t be swayed by urgent requests or advice to invest immediately so you don’t miss out.  

  • Do your research and only deal with trustworthy cryptocurrency exchanges. Once you authorize a transaction and send money to a scammer on the blockchain, it’s almost impossible to get it back. 

Signs of a COVID-19 test results and vaccine passport scam 

As travel restrictions change, you might be thinking about planning a trip and may need to prove a negative COVID-19 test for a flight or arrival at a land border crossing. Given the high price tag of up to $300 per test associated with PCR tests, it might be tempting to click on a link sent by text or email promising free tests. 

Like COVID-19 tests, fraudsters could also provide a link taking you to a phony website to download your QR code instead of through the official government website.  

What might happen: You receive a text message that seems to come from a real organization that offers health information and requests a donation to help Canadians impacted by COVID-19. They include a link or phone number to get in touch. 

What you should do: If the text or email looks suspicious or is not from somewhere you recognize,  

  • Do not click on the link. Links could take you to a site where fraudsters can gain access to your login credentials, credit card data, or personal information.  

  • Don’t call the number. If you want to get in touch with the organization, find their number elsewhere. 

  • Remember, you are not obligated to respond. If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably fake. 

Get a step ahead 

While scams happen, you don’t have to be afraid—or a victim. Be aware of the risks and spot a scam by applying similar analysis to other situations online. Scammers are always coming up with new ways to sneak attack, but you can stay ahead of the fraudsters. 

To add an extra layer of security, ensure you backup your files to a local storage drive or cloud storage, scan your system for malware using anti-virus security software, change your login credentials regularly and set up a fraud alert with a credit bureau.  

Being vigilant online might take a bit of extra effort, but it’s worth it to save the time and money that it could cost you down the road.