Phoney this, phoney that

I live in Durham region in Ontario and in one week two headlines in our local paper screamed out at me: “Durham warns of phoney water treatment sales pitches” and “Phone scams continue at alarming pace, Durham police warn”. So, let’s consider some of the ways to protect yourself against fraud – both online and by phone.

Online
Online threats have been around for years. These include phishing scams which are e-mails purporting to be from a bank, Canada Post, FedEx, and recently PayPal and even the CRA. Most companies will not send you an e-mail saying that your account has been threatened so never, ever click the link in these e-mails or enter any personal data. Delete the e-mail or forward it to the company’s fraud department for review. If you are really concerned, call the company directly through numbers listed on their website to confirm that your information has not been compromised.

Passwords
So many passwords for so many sites and devices! Using the same simple password over and over, while easier, can also be dangerous. Some tips for creating effective passwords:

  1. Each account should have its own unique password.
  2. Passwords should be at least 8 characters long with a combination of upper and lower case letters and numbers and/or symbols.
  3. Create a list of passwords for reference and keep away from your computer.
  4. There are passwords generators available online to help you create random passwords. There are a number of password managers available to help you.

Phone scams
These scams have been around for a while but have been increasing at an alarming rate. The CRA scam has received the most attention recently due to both the frequency that is being reported and the fear it brings to every one of us who files taxes. You receive a phone call, often on your cell phone, from someone claiming to be with CRA. They advise that you are overdue on your taxes and demand immediate payment. They threaten you with arrest unless you immediately go to your bank and transfer money. The cell phone works particularly well as they can keep you on the phone the entire time while you are going to the bank. Sadly, this has worked many times – people feel threatened, get very scared and are defrauded out of thousands of dollars.

Remember, CRA will NEVER e-mail or call you looking for money. Correspondence is always by mail. If you are contacted any other way hang up and report the call to the police.

One of our own staff at Polson Bourbonniere Derby received an e-mail from Air Canada a few weeks ago advising that there was a phone scam making the rounds. They indicated that people were receiving calls offering a prize or vacation from Air Canada. Attempts were then made to collect personal information for fraudulent purposes. Air Canada advised that they never promote by phone and recommended that anyone contacted should hang-up and report the incident to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) by phone or online:

Phone: 1-888-495-8501 (PHONEBUSTERS)
Online: Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre
This site is a terrific source of information regarding current scams making the rounds.

Emergency scams
We want to highlight this particular scam for individuals who are grandparents and are the major target of this ploy. In this case, the scammers go through mail, social networking profiles, etc. to gather information. They then call a grandparent – often in the middle of the night for maximum effect – claiming to be a grandchild who is in trouble. They ask their “grandparent” to send money via Western Union and not tell anyone else in the family for fear of consequences. Unfortunately, this works all too frequently.

There are always going to be people who try to steal from others; the internet, with all of its available information, is making this easier to do. Never let someone intimidate you into sending money or providing personal information by phone or online. Verify first, double check the information, and always report such instances.

Lydia Bzowej, BA, CFP®, EPC, is an Investment Advisor with Polson Bourbonniere Derby, HollisWealth®, a division of Industrial Alliance Securities Inc., which is a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund and the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada. The opinions expressed herein are those of Ms. Bzowej alone and may not be aligned with the opinions and values of Industrial Alliance Securities Inc. or any of its affiliated companies.