In 2017, Canadians lost a reported $95 million to scammers; up from $90 million in 2016, and from $60 million in 2015. Scamming is clearly big business, and growing, and since it is estimated that only five per cent of victims report their losses, it is likely that in 2017 Canadians were fleeced to the tune of $2 billion.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has released its list of the National Top 10 Scams for 2017. The annual list is compiled from key information from the BBB’s Scam Tracker website, Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre statistics, and critical concerns frequently brought forward by community partners and corporate sponsors.
Between them, the top 10 scams of 2017 scammed more than $68 million from the pockets of Canadians. Wire fraud/spearphishing accounted for the most reported losses, at more than $20 million.
Four scams that made last year’s top 10 list—identity fraud, binary option fraud, fake lottery winnings, and fake online endorsements—have dropped off this year’s list, but that does not mean they are not still out there. They were replaced by fake invoices, miracle weight loss products, shady contractors, and cryptocurrency scams.
The number one scam in terms of complaints—if not dollars lost—was online purchase scams, which cost Canadians more than $13 million. There is not just one type of online purchase scam: from fake websites to counterfeit goods to “free trial” traps and more, these scams are everywhere. To avoid them, shop on reputable websites, read all terms and conditions, and be wary of anything that looks too good to be true.
Wire fraud/spearphishing, which often targets businesses, is number two, while at number three are romance scams. Canadians didn’t just lose their hearts online; they lost more than $19 million. Never send money to someone you haven’t met, and don’t give out personal information such as your email address or phone number.
Employment scams—last year’s number one scam—came in at fourth this year, costing Canadians more than $5 million. Beware of surprise job offers: if you didn’t apply, you didn’t get hired. These scams usually involve little or no interviewing of “employees”, with those falling for the scam asked to deposit a cheque to their account to reimburse them for various expenses.
Once deposited, the victim is asked to transfer the balance left over—often several thousand dollars—to another person. However, the initial cheque is fake, and by the time the victim finds out via their bank, the money is gone and cannot be recovered. Also be on the lookout for poor grammar, lack of job details, and an over-the-top rate of pay.
Cryptocurrency scams, often involving Bitcoin, are new to the list at number five, costing Canadians $1.7 million. The fact that payments made in cryptocurrency are almost impossible to trace makes them appealing to scammers. As reported in The Journal last week, income tax scams, usually involving the Canada Revenue Agency, continue to plague Canadians, costing them more than $5 million in 2017 and coming in at number six.
It’s not known how much was lost to “miracle weight loss” scams—number seven on the list—but remember that there is no magic pill for rapid weight loss. Beware of unsubstantiated claims, and remember that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Advance fee loans, at number eight, raked in more than $1.5 million. If you’re approved for a loan and the lender requests money as security, walk away. Research reputable lenders, and know that a guarantee of a loan before a credit check has been done is highly suspect.
Shady contractors without a conscience are number nine; they will often take your deposit, then vanish. Be wary of unsolicited offers of work, get several estimates for any work you want done, and go to BBB.org to research trustworthy companies. Word of mouth is also good; ask for references and check with former customers to see what they have to say.
Last but not least are fake invoices, a scam which has been around for many years and which targets ordinary Canadians as well as businesses. With so many people having online accounts with legitimate businesses, it can be easy to fall victim to a realistic-looking, but fake, invoice that purports to come from a legitimate company you have an account with. Businesses will often receive an invoice that claims they owe money for a given service, such as office supplies or a phone directory listing. These invoices often lack vital contact information, such as a phone number, email address, or website.
Even though many people who fall victim to a scam are reluctant, or too embarrassed, to report it, the BBB encourages people to report scams to their Scam Tracker website at www.bbb.org/scamtracker, and not to be ashamed to report that they’ve been scammed.
“Everyone is a target now,” says Danielle Primrose, president and CEO of BBB serving Mainland BC and representing BBBs across Canada. “Staying informed and on top of the numerous ways scammers try and get your money is key to making sure you don’t fall victim. That’s why we do this every year. Recognize it, report it, stop it.”