Recognize the warning signs that something might be a scam.

Recognize the warning signs that something might be a scam.

Resolve not to fall victim to a scam in 2017

Canadians lose millions of dollars to scammers each year, so make a resolution to keep your bank account safe.

Many New Year’s resolutions involve a person’s physical health and well-being, such as losing weight, exercising more, or giving up smoking. However, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) suggests that for 2017, people look after their financial health by resolving not to get scammed.

“Canadians lose countless millions of dollars every year to scams,” says Evan Kelly, senior communications advisor for BBB serving Mainland BC. “So many scams are untraceable, and it’s nearly impossible to get your money back. Prevention through education is really one of the best lines of defence.”

The Golden Rule, when it comes to not getting scammed, is to ask yourself if an offer or proposal is too good to be true. If the answer is “yes”, it probably is, so be warned.

Do your research before buying anything or hiring a service provider. Check with the BBB and/or read online reviews about the company, and if you decide to go ahead, get everything in writing. Verbal agreements should be spelled out on company letterhead, to limit miscommunication and make sure everyone knows what to expect.

Read the fine print, especially with any offer that bills itself as a “free trial”. Find out exactly what the costs will be when the free trial period ends, and understand the terms and conditions and the return policy. If that information is not readily available, be very wary.

Many people do not bother to check their monthly credit card statements, which means they might miss unauthorized transactions. Do not assume your statement is correct; check it item by item as soon as you receive it. The sooner you catch an unauthorized payment, the better the odds of getting a refund.

Pop-up ads and “click bait” promotions on social media can often be a way for scammers to get you to click on questionable links and unknowingly sign up for goods and subscriptions with your credit card. Be proactive, and only shop on reputable sites: go directly to the company’s website if you are interested, and protect yourself by using a third party payment system such as PayPal rather than your credit card.

Change your passwords to online accounts on a regular basis: IT experts suggest doing this every three months. Use a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols, and do not use family or pet names, or your phone number. Password manager apps for your computer and devices are a good way to keep track of your passwords. And make sure you update your anti-virus software regularly: hackers constantly find ways through current programs, forcing these companies to constantly make changes and issue updates.

If you are buying tickets to a live show, use a reputable ticket broker or purchase tickets directly from the venue. Do not send money to third parties you do not know.

Be skeptical of job offers, work-at-home schemes, or business opportunities that request personal information upfront and promise big money for little work and no experience. These are usually cheque-cashing schemes that can leave people out of pocket, sometimes to the tune of several thousand dollars. If you did not apply for a job and did not get an interview, you did not get hired.

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) scam has fallen off the radar since a call-centre in India was raided in fall 2016, but be reminded that the CRA does not make threatening phone calls about unpaid taxes. Similarly, any email that says you owe money for a traffic offence is false. The email will usually contain a link which it says shows picture proof of the offence, but do not click on it: it is either a phishing scam designed to get personal information, or will lead to the installation of malware or virusware on your computer.

And remember that any scheme which promises that the outlay of a sum of money, however small ($15 for a bottle of wine) or large ($5,000 for a “gifting circle”), will lead to the recipient receiving many times that amount if they can get six friends involved, is a pyramid scheme. They are illegal in Canada, and will almost certainly result in the loss of your money.