Protecting Yourself from Consumer Fraud and Scams - LawNow Magazine

Protecting Yourself from Consumer Fraud and Scams

Online law columnBeen offered tickets for a free cruise? Received a heartfelt plea to help a distant relative?  Had a bank or credit card company email you for your password and account details?  You may have been contacted by scammers looking for your money or your personal information. Every year Canadians lose millions of dollars through consumer frauds and scams. These schemes can come via telephone, email, websites, text messaging, direct mail or even in person.

Scammers aren’t choosy – they target people of all ages and backgrounds. Sometimes you may not even be aware that you’ve been the victim of a scam until unusual activity shows up on your credit card or bank statement.  The first step you can take to protect yourself is to be aware of some of the tactics con artists use to rip you off. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) offers help in recognizing scams, including the old warning about ‘if it sounds too good to be true…’  The site outlines some of the most common schemes seen in Canada such as 419 scams (a.k.a Nigerian or advance fee scams), cheque overpayment fraud, and so-called emergency scams (sometimes referred to as grandparent scams), where people are tricked into thinking they are sending money to a relative in need.

The RCMP is a key partner of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and their Scams and Fraud website includes information on scams targeting seniors, identity theft, email fraud and phishing, as well as fraud on the Internet. The Government of Canada has passed new anti-spam legislation which will take effect in July 1, 2014. If you have experienced identity theft or identity fraud, the RCMP’s Identity Theft and Identity Fraud Victim Assistance Guide sets out some basic steps that you can follow to help minimize the negative impact and help prevent further crimes.

The Competition Bureau also works to prevent cases of fraud by helping Canadians to “recognize it, report it and stop it”. The Bureau’s Little Black Book of Scams contains information that can help you to protect yourself from becoming a victim of consumer fraud. The guide tells you what to look for before acting on an unsolicited offer and what to do if you get scammed.

Spam (a.k.a unsolicited or junk emails) is one of the most common methods used by scammers to get access to your personal or financial information.  The Government of Canada has passed new anti-spam legislation which will take effect in July 1, 2014. Once in force, the new law will apply to any individual or business that sends commercial messages using electronic channels to sell or promote products or services. Individuals, businesses and organizations can learn more about the new law at fightspam.gc.ca.

Still on the subject of email, phishing is a particularly nasty type of spam.  Phishing emails, which can look legitimate, are designed to trick you into disclosing information.  Sometimes you may not even be aware that you’ve been the victim of a scam until unusual activity shows up on your credit card or bank statement.  The first step you can take to protect yourself is to be aware of some of the tactics con artists use to rip you off. As the Canadian Bankers Association (CBA) cautions on its website “If you receive a phishing e-mail pretending to be from a bank that asks for personal or financial information, there are two things you should do: report it and delete it.” The CBA site also provides links to the email fraud pages on individual bank websites. Phishing emails seem to become more popular during tax season and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has issued a reminder that the CRA does not email Canadians to request personal or financial information. Details as to how the Agency safeguards taxpayer data and measures for protecting yourself from fraudulent activity are available on its Fraud Prevention webpage.

Industry Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs maintains the consumerinformation.ca website – a collection of resources gathered from federal, provincial and territorial governments, as well as non-government sources such as consumer groups and Better Business Bureaus across the country . The site covers a range of consumer protection issues such as security of private and personal information and avoiding financial scams and fraud. Consumer Affairs is also responsible for the Canadian Consumer Handbook which offers information on a wide range of topics to protect consumers and help them to make informed decisions. Their practical tips can help you avoid potential pitfalls when purchasing goods or services offered via telemarketing, through online shopping sites, or by door-to-door sales. The Handbook can be accessed online in its entirety or you can create and print your own customized version by selecting topics of particular interest.

Like consumers, business owners and non-profit organizations are also at risk of falling victim to fraud. The Fraud Awareness for Commercial Targets (FACT) campaign is an initiative of the Competition Bureau to help organizations learn more about fraud prevention.  Some of the most common types of fraud that business owners may encounter are bogus invoice and directory scams. The FACT site suggests guidelines to help organizations to develop an anti-fraud plan and conduct staff training on fraud awareness.

If you suspect you may have been the victim of fraud you can contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre for information and advice. Don’t be embarrassed if you’ve been caught out, with over 40,000 complaints of mass marketing fraud reported to CAFC in 2012, you’re in good company.

 

Authors:

Margo Till-Rogers
Margo Till-Rogers is a librarian and the Associate Director of the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta (CPLEA) in Edmonton, Alberta.
 


A Publication of CPLEA