Canadians lost a reported $90 million to scammers in 2016, almost $30 million more than in 2015. And while that figure is high, it is likely only the tip of the iceberg, since it is estimated that only five per cent of scam victims report their losses.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has used data gathered from its Scam Tracker website, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), and concerns brought forward by sponsors and community partners to compile a list of the top 10 scams Canadians fell for in 2016. While there was some good news—the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) scam dropped off dramatically after a raid on a call centre in India late last year—the bad news is that more people are losing more money to con artists.
“The CRA scam is still happening, but the raid in India really cut it back,” says Evan Kelly, the senior communications advisor for the BBB serving mainland B.C. “The CAFC used to get hundreds of calls a week about it, but now they get about 20.” However, he adds that scammers have added a new twist to the ploy.
“Now they’re calling people who fell for the scam and are saying they can get their money back if they pay a fee.”
The number one scam of last year was employment scams, netting a reported $5.3 million. Even though other scams earned more, Kelly says that employment scams were the subject of the largest number of reports they received. They 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. “If you deposit a fraudulent cheque and withdraw money, you’re on the hook,” warns Kelly. “And if you’re hired without much of an interview, then it’s too good to be true.”
Online dating scams were another top scam of 2016, with a reported $17 million lost to them. “People give their money and their heart at the same time,” says Kelly. “They keep getting duped, and give away thousands of dollars, then are far too ashamed to come forward. Maybe they don’t think coming forward will do anything.”
Identity fraud scams came in at number three, and advance fee loans were number four. Online purchase scams were number five, and Kelly says that while many of these have died off since the holiday shopping season, they will be back.
Wire fraud, binary option scams, fake lottery winnings, the CRA scam, and fake online endorsements—which attempt to persuade people that a product or company or service has been endorsed by someone famous—round out the top 10 list. Kelly explains that the fake endorsement scam is similar to one from a couple of years ago. “They claim a celebrity has endorsed a product, but they haven’t, which shakes the trust of consumers, and is very, very misleading.”
The binary option scam is fraudulent trading, where people are asked to bet on whether or not a stock will go up or down. Kelly says it is extremely high risk. “You’re basically giving your money away, because the scammers take the money and run.”
While scammers often target seniors, they are by no means the only people being taken in. However, seniors can be more vulnerable, especially when it comes to online scams, and friends and relatives are encouraged to keep an eye out for signs that they have fallen victim to scam artists.
The websites offering binary trading are typically based overseas, as are the vast majority of the other scams on the top 10 list, but 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.
“Awareness and education are the best defence,” says Kelly.