Attempted scams and frauds through email are becoming an epidemic. We have talked about this danger before, but when I did a presentation on it Thursday to a group of educated, affluent people, I was reminded just how prolific and clever these scams have become.
Last week, an investment adviser told me of a client who actually fell victim to such a scam, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. The threat is real.
To me, one of the scariest trends is how clever the "phishers" are becoming. These are criminals who try to get your personal information, especially usernames and passwords for your financial accounts, by "phishing" for it through various means. They resort to ingenious methods to achieve their goal.
We have state-of-the-art spam filters, spyware and anti-virus protection, but in my hands are completely legitimate-looking emails supposedly from Royal Bank, Bank of Montreal and CIBC, PayPal, investment dealers and even an online concert ticket website. (I don't have any such accounts.)
All of these were sent to me to supposedly "protect" me from security breaches on my accounts. Many tell me my access has been restricted because of "threats" and that I can reactivate my account by clicking on a link and logging in.
A recent email supposedly from "PayPal" was particularly brazen. It requested me to first confirm my "account ownership" by filling in all of my personal data, including my mother's maiden name, SIN and credit card number, expiration date and verification number.
Of course, if I do this, I will have given them everything they need to have full access to my card for their use and a great start on stealing my identity to get more cards and credit issued, without me knowing it.
DO NOT click on any links, or go to any websites, or answer any emails asking you to provide any personal information or passwords.
The other current epidemic is social-media scams. Through Facebook, Twitter or other such websites, it's easy to get to know a scary amount of information about someone, which allows a criminal to approach that person as if they were an acquaintance. Social-media sites are also fertile ground for attractive "free" offers or enticements to visit other websites.
Common scams are direct messages that tell you either flattering or compromising images of you appear on a certain website, or which encourage you to cut and paste an address into your browser in order to access coupons or other offers, or to view a salacious video. These are really methods to download malware or a "worm" onto your computer, which can take control of your account.
You have probably received emails supposedly from friends, only to be told afterwards they knew nothing about them. Such spam is a result of malware.
Do not accept offers that appear to be too good to be true, even if they are from well-known retailers. If you have gone to a website that encourages you to "upgrade your Flash player now" or a similar notice in order to view a video, be very suspicious. Certainly do not accept "friend requests" from people you don't know well.
Also common are fake quizzes, contests or other potential prize-winning events, which require you to provide your cellphone number before "winning." Of course, this allows them to subscribe you to expensive text-messaging services.
Be very careful about the information you reveal about yourself on social-media sites. Scammers spend their days there looking for clues to people's identity and ways to introduce themselves to your friends.
Please be careful -- both online and at retailers and restaurants -- with your PIN, passwords, information about where you bank or invest, where you live, when you will be on vacation, what type of computer you use and anything else that can give scammers and thieves a leg up.
Check your credit card regularly for unauthorized purchases. Fraud artists start with small amounts, to see if you're paying attention. Report any suspicious activity to your card company.
Do not accept phone offers to come to your house to fix your computer and don't even be tempted by offers of millions of dollars, if you will only help facilitate someone receiving an inheritance, or removing money from a war-torn country.
Any offer that seems too good to be true is almost certainly too good to be true.
I will post a list of fraud avoidance tips on my blog (www.davidchristianson.com).
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Correction -- last week, I erroneously said a person must live in Canada for 20 years to collect maximum OAS. The correct figure is 10 years, if living in Canada at 65, and 20 years only if living outside of Canada when applying. Sorry about that!
Dollars and Sense is meant as an introduction to this topic and should not in any way be construed as a replacement for personalized professional advice.
David Christianson is a fee-for-service financial planner with Wellington West Total Wealth Management Inc., a portfolio manager (restricted).