With the pandemic shifting our workspace and all our businesses online, there has been a dramatic rise in online scams. Be it online shopping-related scamming or CRA-associated scamming or even employment-associated scamming, scammers have been finding ways to sneak into our emails, social media, and websites we commonly use to find a way to get us to click their links and fall into the trap. Graduate students in particular have been victims of three most common scams: online purchases (buying or selling an item), employment and especially in the case of international students, tax-associated scams. We have compiled a list of different types of scams, red flags for these scams and tips on who to reach out to when in doubt or if you have been a victim of scamming.
Online purchases: Buying and selling
Online purchases have been on the top among the most common types of scamming in 2020. Whether you are purchasing or selling an item (.eg., on Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace), the scammers reach out to you and in case of purchase, they request for the money via pre-paid gift cards, Western Union money transfer because these are untraceable and once the money has been sent, you have no way of getting it back or tracking the receiver and you won’t receive the item either. Another red flag is if the item in question seems to be too cheap to be true, then it usually is. In case of selling an item, the scammers either ask for you to ship it to an address far from where you live, offer to pay up front, usually in more sum than you put the ad for or ask to buy an item without even seeing it first. Pet scams and plant scams have been two huge scams in 2020 owing to the isolation and loneliness that the pandemic has brought with it. If you do have to do business online for pets or plants, always ask for their bank account number to transfer the money to. If they decline or ask you to do it via gift cards or money wiring system, it is a red flag.
Another thing to be mindful of is if you receive unsolicited emails from brands such as Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Walmart claiming you won a prize, lucky draw or anything. If you did not enter for one, you can never win.
Another telltale sign of scam is grammar. If the website, their name, the URL has a letter change or grammatical error, it’s a scam.
Employment is another big scam where you receive an unsolicited email from an “employer” offering you a job. If you never applied for a job then the email is a red flag. Grammatical errors and spelling errors are also very common red flags in emails from these scammers.
What’s the harm in it? They usually add a link to a virus in the email because any email about employment is a temptation when thousands have been laid off in a pandemic. They could also request for personal information for their “Human Resources”. Never give any of your personal information to anyone online. To make it seem real, they even request for a test session where they could ask you to demonstrate for them. If the offer feels too good to turn down, ask a trusted friend or family to check it for you.
Many scammers successfully commit fraud by tricking victims into believing they are representatives or agents from the government such as the Canada Revenue Agency. The CRA may call or email you to address certain issues; however, below are some red flags that you should watch out for:
The CRA will never:
- demand immediate payment by Interac e-transfer, bitcoin, prepaid credit cards or gift cards from retailers such as iTunes, Amazon, or others
- use aggressive language or threaten you with arrest or sending the police
- leave voicemails that are threatening or give personal or financial information
- give or ask for personal or financial information by email and ask you to click on a link
- email you a link asking you to fill in an online form with personal or financial details
- send you an email with a link to your refund
Learn more here: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/corporate/security/protect-yourself-against-fraud.html
Phishing is a very common online threat. Scammers can send you emails or text messages with an urgent message, pretend to be someone you know, or threaten you to expose information about you to the public. Scams are always after your personal information such as banking information, social insurance number so that they can either steal your money or use your identity for illegal purposes. Watch out for the following red flags to protect your identity and money online:
- Urgent or emergency messages
- Requests for sensitive information (e.g., personal information, credit card/banking information)
- Anything too good to be true (e.g., winning a lottery, prizes, inheritance from a long-lost relatives)
- Unexpected emails (e.g., receipts for items you didn’t purchase, updates on deliveries you didn’t order)
- Information mismatches (e.g., spelling errors, suspicious links, incorrect sender email address)
- Suspicious attachments (e.g., uncommon file types, suspicious file name)
- Unprofessional design (e.g., incorrect or blurry logos, company emails with poor formatting, image-only emails)
Top 10 tips for protecting yourself against financial scams (Taken from BBB.org):
- Never send money to someone you have never met face to face
- Don’t click on links or open attachments in unsolicited email or text messages.
- Don’t believe everything you see. Official seals, fonts, logos, website, emails and Caller ID can be faked
- Don’t buy online unless the transaction is secure. Make sure the website has “https” in the URL and a small lock icon on the address bar.
- Be extremely cautious when dealing with anyone you’ve met online.
- Never share personally identifiable information with someone who has contacted you unsolicited.
- Don’t be pressured to act immediately.
- Use secure, traceable transactions when making payments for goods, services, taxes and debts
- Whenever possible, work with businesses that have proper identification, licensing, and insurance
- Be cautious about what you share on social media.
Learn more at BBB.org/AvoidScams
(Source: BBB report)
Protect yourself from Identity Theft!
Your identity is vulnerable for online and offline theft and used for illegal activities. Offline, scammers can go through your trash or printed documents to find your personal information. Online, scammers can use spywares, viruses, phishing, and scamming to steal your information. Scammers usually look for credit card information, bank account details, full name and signature, date of birth, social insurance number, full address, mother’s maiden name, online usernames and passwords, driver’s license number, and passport number.
Staying secure online at home and at work doesn’t have to be hard. There are some easy steps you can take to increase your cybersecurity. Check out UCalgary’s resources prepared by IT to learn how to stay secure online: https://it.ucalgary.ca/cybersecurity
What to do when you think you have been scammed:
- Contact your local police office
- If your social insurance number (SIN) has been stolen, you should contact Service Canada at 1-866-274-6627
- If your CRA log-in information was compromised, call the CRA at 1-800-959-8281 for individuals and 1-800-959-5525 for businesses to request that enhanced security measures be placed on your account
- Report to Anti-Fraud Centre: AntiFraudCentre.ca or call 1‑888‑495‑8501
- Report to Competition Bureau: competitionbureau.gc.ca
Who to reach out to when you are in doubt:
- Call CRA or visit your CRA Online Account
- Reach out to the official organizations to verify the information
Additional resources for you to learn more about scams and spams:
- Anti-Fraud Centre: AntiFraudCentre.ca
- Competition Bureau: competitionbureau.gc.ca
- The Little Black Book of Scams (2nd edition – available in 8 languages)