The most common online, email scams Canadians are falling for now

Elisabetta Bianchini
·6-min read
Business man hand is holding smart phone with scam alert warning sign.
Business man hand is holding smart phone with scam alert warning sign.

October is Cyber Security Awareness Month and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) is reminding the public about the most common scams to be on the lookout for.

“With the ongoing pandemic, Canadians have increasingly relied on the internet to conduct everyday activities, such as, buying and selling goods or looking for a job,” the bulletin from the CAFC reads.

In 2019, the top reported online scams targeting Canadians are as follows:

  1. Merchandise: 1,414 reports, 1,052 victims, $1,528,100 in losses

  2. Service: 1,366 reports, 1,018 victims, $1,461,200 in losses

  3. Sale of Merchandise by Complaint: 1,076 reports, 793 victims, $691,800 in losses

  4. Job: 560 reports, 232 victims, $710,000 in losses

  5. Counterfeit Merchandise: 309 reports, 281 victims, $100,000 in losses

The anti-fraud centre estimates that less than five per cent of fraud victims report their occurrences to the CAFC.

Merchandise fraud is when scammers create fake ads on classified ad sites, resale sites, website pop-ups and fake company websites. The items for sale can range from electronics and clothing to even animals, or counterfeit merchandise.

The CAFC warns the public that if the price of an item listed online is “too good to be true,” it is.

These scammers use a number of tactics, including spoofing messages that payments are required and fraudsters requesting payment through a money service business like MoneyGram or Western Union. They also can include overpayment scams, where a fake buyer overpays for an item and requests reimbursement of the excess amount, before the victims realizes the payment was fraudulent.

Service fraud impacting Canadians has been across a number of industries, some of the most common service scams the CAFC has identified are air duct cleaning, help with government documents, immigration website, low interest rate offers, pardon, resale and tech support.

Many of these frauds involve individuals conducting services that are poor or risky quality, or scammers offering services through websites, online ads or phone calls, like immigration or financial services, at inexpensive prices.

For job scams, the types that have been reported to the CAFC are car wrapping, counterfeit cheque, financial agent and mystery shopper.

Counterfeit cheque, car wrapping and mystery shopping scams identified by the CAFC all involve fraudsters instructing victims to deposit a fake cheque into their personal account and then transfer a certain amount of money out of that account for particular fees, to make purchases, among other reasons.

The anti-fraud centre is also alerting the public that it is seeing more victims sending money through cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, Litecoin, Etherum and others.

The CAFC has outlined a number of tips for Canadians to protect themselves from these scams:

  • Be cautious of greatly reduced prices (e.g. 80%). Know the market value of products

  • Notice text with spelling errors or references to the product as “the item”

  • Beware of pets offered at below market value or “free”

  • Whenever possible, meet and purchase a pet in person

  • Locate and verify the company’s contact information (address, phone number, email) before you buy

  • Look for customer reviews and ratings from third-party sources

  • Be mindful where you post your resume. Scammers use legitimate websites to seek out victims

  • Take the time to research an employer and confirm that they are hiring

Most common email scams in Canada

The anti-fraud centre also shared the list of the top email scams Canadians are falling victim to.

“Email scams represent one of the most prevalent attack methods for fraud and other cybercrimes,” the bulletin from the CAFC reads. “From fraudulent phishing scams soliciting personal and financial information to extortion demands requesting bitcoin payments, emails are being used to send a variety of false, deceptive, misleading and fraudulent messages.”

In 2019, the top reported email scams targeting Canadians are as follows:

  1. Phishing, 2,246 reports, 797 victims

  2. Extortion, 2,126 reports, 34 victims, $6,500 in losses

  3. Job, 770 reports, 282 victims, $946,100 in losses

  4. Spear Phishing, 564 reports, 329 victims, $1,799,600 in losses

  5. Merchandise, 394 reports, 242 victims, $428,600 in losses

Phishing fraud is when a scammer send an email that appears to be from a known company, like Netflix or Amazon, or a bank, claiming that the victim needs to update their online account.

There is also a variation where a phishing email is sent, with minimal text, encouraging someone to click on a fraudulent link or attachment, which will infect their computer with a virus or malware.

“The email may seem to be a receipt from a recent purchase, a delivery notification, or something more urgent, such as a notice to appear in court,” the CAFC warns.

Extortion scams are when a fraudster coerces an individual or institution to supply money, property or services.

Ongoing extortion scams identified by the CAFC include bomb threats, denial of service, explicit video, hitman, hostage, hydro and ransomware.

There is also sextortion fraud when scammers create fake profiles on social media, pornographic and dating sites. Taxpayer fraud is also something Canadians should be aware of, which is when scammers claim the victim owes tax money, committed a crime or had their SIN number compromised.

The CAFC has also identified Canadians have been falling victim to immigration extortion scams, when fraudsters claim to be from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and insist money needs to be paid to avoid deportation, loss of passport or citizenship.

Earlier this year, the anti-fraud centre revealed that Asian communities in Canada have been targeted with automated calls from scammers, claiming there are from a courier company or foreign law enforcement, like Beijing police and Shanghai customs.

Spear phishing scams are when fraudsters pretend to be legitimate sources the victim, a business or individual, needs to send money to.

“These scams leverage existing relationships between the person receiving the email and the person sending it,” the CAFC warns. “The sender's address appears to be the actual email address of the source they're pretending to be, a tactic known as spoofing.”

Some variations to this scam include business executive spoofs, financial industry client spoof, head office spoof, payroll spoof and supplier or contractor swindle.

The CAFC has also listed a number of tips the help Canadians protect themselves from email scams:

  • Remain current on frauds targeting business and educate all employees

  • Have detailed payment procedures and encourage a verification process for unusual email requests

  • Avoid opening unsolicited emails or clicking on suspicious links or attachments

  • Take a few seconds to hover over an email address or link and confirm that they are correct

  • Back up your system/data regularly and keep the backups on a separate removable hard drive

  • Don’t forget to disconnect, when done, and if possible check the backup(s) from a separate computer that uses a different operating system

  • Take the time to research an employer and confirm that they are hiring

The main directive for Canadians to protect themselves from falling victim to any scam, including both online and email fraud, is to remain current on scams and share what you know to protect others.

According to the CAFC, Canadians should tell two other people what they know about any frauds and ask them to do the same.

“An unbroken chain of 25 people telling two would cover the entire population of Canada,” the anti-fraud centre states.