Police urge continued vigilance as Fraud Prevention Month comes to an end

"Basically, what you want to do is be paranoid"

Fraud Prevention Month is winding down, but police hope you won’t let your guard down.

“Frauds are definitely on the rise, it’s an ever-prevailing problem,” South Simcoe Police Detective Constable Jason Muto told Barrie 360. “As the years go by, if you look at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre stats, things have doubled, tripled, five-folded … the money lost is just exponentially getting higher and higher.”

Some scams are pretty elaborate, and some are pretty simple, yet we still fall for them. They can be as simple as a text message, to more sophisticated involving cryptocurrency, or the use of the ‘dark web’.

Muto points to the digital world we live in, the apps, and the social media.

“The apps and products that we use, a lot of them are free, right? And they’re free because you’re the product. That marketing institution wants your information … you put (your) information out there, where those companies are collecting it and then selling it.”

And we’re pretty free with that information. We shop online. Our debit and credit cards are getting put into online places daily. It’s more accessible to fraudsters. Gone are the days when thieves had to break into your car or break into your house to try to get your identity. They just sit at home on a computer and with a few clicks the information comes to them.

“Even when you go to the bank, and you get a credit card or open up a bank account, if you flip through the pages, there’s one that tells you (they’re) going to disclose your information to other agencies, and you sign off on that.” Muto says that information gets passed on from agency to agency, making it more accessible to fraudsters.

Investment, romance, and grandparent scams are the biggest frauds police deal with. Random phone calls asking you to go to what is a fake website to get a good deal on a particular investment; they take your money, and you never hear from them again. You meet someone online and all of a sudden they’re stuck at the border and need money. Grandparents get calls from people purporting to be their grandchild, asking for cash to get them out of trouble.

How do we protect ourselves?

Muto says there are two main things to remember, no matter what the fraud.

“Basically, what you want to do is be paranoid. That’s the number one thing, always be paranoid. And number two is very simple, if it’s too good to be true it’s likely a fraud. So be paranoid when somebody comes to your door. Be paranoid when you answer the phone.”

The best advice is to simply hang up, as hard as that might be, then make a call to your bank, your children, or grandchildren, to determine if there is a ‘deal’, or a problem.

And it’s not just individuals who need to be wary. More and more businesses are being targetted. Email accounts are accessed, databases are breached, and customers are getting fake emails about money owed, or offers of help to fix a computer issue that doesn’t exist. These can often be detected by checking the spelling of your name, looking to see how many other people have been copied on the email, and an odd-looking letter or number in the sender’s address.

Businesses have also been warned to be extra vigilant with whom they hire, conducting extensive background checks, to avoid employment fraud. Hiring a good bookkeeper is advised, and staying on top of statements.

Many companies have invested in cybersecurity policies from insurance companies. If hackers get in, they have people that will assist a company to get back on track.

Is it possible to overprotect ourselves?

“No, not all,” says Muto, “just as we’re getting more advanced technology, so are the fraudsters.”

Investing in security software for your computer is a must, he says. And he recommends a credit monitoring subscription through Equifax or TransUnion, for between $20 and $30 a month. As soon as someone uses your identity at a company, say a bank or a car dealership, you get an immediate notification if it was you, suggesting you take action if it wasn’t.

There are dozens and dozens of frauds, says Muto, “We can talk about this for days and days. But, if you are paranoid, and if you have the mindset that this is too good to be true … more than likely you’ll be okay.”

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