As much as people might think it could never happen to them, anyone can become a victim of fraud. All it takes is a fraudster targeting the right person, at the right time, with the right scam.
“You’re talking about people whose full-time, nine-to-five, 40-hour a week job is to defraud other people,” said Vanessa Iafolla, a fraud victim consultant and financial crime professor at Wilfrid Laurier University.
“They know what’s happening. They know what the fraud landscape looks like. They know what kinds of current events or social events they can capitalize on.”
This week, CBC Toronto’s investigative series, The Cost of Fraud, has dug into Ontario’s growing fraud problem by showing how fewer reports are making it through the criminal system, how even those that do end in conviction aren’t necessarily helping victims or deterring fraudsters — and what a specialized office is trying to do to help tackle the problem.
As Fraud Awareness Month kicks off, this final chapter of the series gets a bit more practical by exploring some of the most prominent and emerging frauds reported in Ontario last year and providing tips to help protect yourself from falling victim to them.
WATCH | A breakdown of the top frauds in Ontario and tips to avoid them:
“We can’t arrest our way out of this,” said Det. Const. John Armit, from the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP).
“The fraud landscape is exploding. We’ve seen a tsunami of what I call cyber-enabled frauds targeting really anyone and everyone.”
Take five minutes, tell two people
Between his work with the OPP’s anti-rackets branch and a stint with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, Armit spends a lot of time dealing with, and talking about, fraud.
To help protect yourself, he recommends an approach he calls “take five, tell two.” If someone contacts you with a pitch, take five minutes to think about it, and then talk to two different people about it before doing anything.
“We see success with that,” he said. “Don’t share any information over the phone or text message or email to people that you don’t know.”
Iafolla also says people should consider a sense of urgency a red flag.
“If you’re the person who’s holding the purse strings, the power is with you,” she said. “The second someone says don’t tell someone, or this has to happen now, that’s a good sign that you should tell everyone and that you should not do it immediately.”
Last year, Canadians reported losing about $416 million to fraud, a 55 per cent jump from the previous record-high of nearly $269 million across the country in 2021, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. More than half of the losses in 2022 came from Ontario.
Those figures are especially stark considering police estimate only five-to-10 per cent of frauds are ever reported.
Crypto and grandparent scams on the rise
In Ontario, investment scams accounted for the highest losses from victims last year, with $136.5 million reported. Armit says a big part of that involves a rise in cryptocurrency investment frauds in 2022. The scams involve fraudsters setting up fake cryptocurrency investment websites, which look real, and then enticing people to invest on social media.
“They’ll have a sales manager that will encourage you to invest more, and they’ll show you how much your investment has jumped. But these are all fake stats that they’re giving the victims,” said Armit.
“These people are losing on average $150,000 — it’s staggering.”
The grandparent scam is another emerging fraud concerning to Armit. It falls within the emergency scam category, which was within the highest reported losses in Ontario last year.
Fraudsters target the elderly via landlines pretending to be a relative or grandchild and say they need the grandparent’s help with bail money to get out of trouble. Then, Armit says, someone else pretends to be a police officer to tell the victim a courier is coming to pick up the money.
“These couriers are attending these elderly victims’ homes, they’re handing over the cash. And what we see with most victims — especially seniors — is they’re going to be victimized perhaps two-to-three more times after that,” Armit said.
“It’s very lucrative for the fraudsters, and it’s very devastating for the victims.”
To stop that, and other frauds, Armit argues everyone has to work together.
“It has to be a partnership with the public, with the government, with law enforcement.”
Leave a Reply