June 24, 2018

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Canadians still falling for fraudsters

Scam Tracker app can help people stay current on latest ripoff schemes

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>‘We encourage people to educate themselves on protection. It’s the only way we are going to win against it,’ said Len Andrusiak, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Manitoba and Northwest Ontario.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

‘We encourage people to educate themselves on protection. It’s the only way we are going to win against it,’ said Len Andrusiak, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Manitoba and Northwest Ontario.

When Alainna McDonald did not receive the US$180 blanket she ordered before Christmas from a sponsored advertiser on Facebook, she emailed them looking for an explanation and they responded.

When she still didn’t get her package, she wrote to the website — called looselystore.com — again and she got another automated response.

“They are so good,” she said. “The people who run that website are probably making a lot of money.”

But they are scamming people.

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When Alainna McDonald did not receive the US$180 blanket she ordered before Christmas from a sponsored advertiser on Facebook, she emailed them looking for an explanation and they responded.

When she still didn’t get her package, she wrote to the website — called looselystore.com — again and she got another automated response.

"They are so good," she said. "The people who run that website are probably making a lot of money."

But they are scamming people.

McDonald, 22, who works at Settlement Services in Virden, Man., is one of only five per cent of victims of online and other kinds of scams who actually report the incidents.

"It’s embarrassing," she said. "Why would you want to tell people that someone tricked you into sending them money?"

But she saw that the site had a lot of traffic and she also saw online comments from others complaining of poor treatment, comments that were quickly deleted. That’s why she figured a note to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) might warn at least some people to stay away.

The BBB knows how prevalent and invasive these kinds of scams are becoming and they believe the only way to combat the problem is for individuals to learn how to spot them.

"We encourage people to educate themselves on protection. It’s the only way we are going to win against it," said Len Andrusiak, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Manitoba and Northwest Ontario. "The criminal justice system is strapped as it is. Imagine if they are inundated with thousands of calls for petty crimes on an annual basis."

Tony Havelka, owner of a Winnipeg technology products company who’s been doing business on the internet since its early days, did not lose any money, but said he received one of those threatening calls from someone claiming to be from Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

He uses tools like crowdsourcing security intelligence and email spam filters, but he believes there is also a common sense approach that can work against online and telephone scammers.

"Be skeptical," he said.

"A lot of people just aren’t skeptical and they are falling for it."

For instance, he said, if he gets a large order with a billing address in Virginia, but the product is to be shipped to Korea, red flags go up.

Eric Gay / The Canadian Press files</p><p>Canadians were swindled out of more than $1.7 million via scams involving cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin in 2017.</p>

Eric Gay / The Canadian Press files

Canadians were swindled out of more than $1.7 million via scams involving cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin in 2017.

"There is credit card fraud all the time," he said. "We are always on the lookout."

The BBB says scammers made off with about $95 million from Canadians last year, but that’s only from the estimated five per cent who report the losses. Most believe the numbers are much higher.

The BBB encourages consumers to use its free Scam Tracker mobile app that lets people report scams and search to see what is being perpetrated in their area, or track a particular type of scam, or even see how much money has been lost.

"The problem, as I see it, is that technology and the ability to communicate electronically has created a massive problem that is almost out of control," Andrusiak said.

"I can’t see how law enforcement can possibly keep on top of all the different scams out there."

For instance, he said, "How does the Winnipeg police department chase fraud for $170 in Kazakhstan? It’s just not possible."

When people like McDonald fall victim to these scams they typically don’t want anyone to know about it.

"I was so disappointed in myself," she said.

"Am I really so stupid to fall for this? But then I realized there are many others and I am not the only the only one."

She said she inspected the website and it looked professional, which is another vexing part about how to avoid it — sometimes the scammers are just that good and their sites mimic legitimate e-commerce sites.

But Havelka said if you take a moment, you will realize there are reasonable actions that can be taken before "you send $700 in iTunes gift cards" to a phony CRA agent pay off a tax bill.

For one thing, if you used a some kind of professional service to do your tax return, you can call that person.

"In my dealings with the CRA they have always been friendly and up front," said Havelka, who uses scientific research and experimental development tax credits and has been audited in the past.

"They don’t come in like beasts looking to tear your company apart. That is not what they want to do."

The BBB advice includes: be wary of offers that are too good to be true; be careful about giving out personal information such as email or phone contacts; look for poor grammar, lack of job details, and over-the-top pay scale numbers on employment sites; the cryptocurrency marketplace has an elevated risk of fraud and manipulation; the CRA does not make threatening phone calls or solicit personal information over the phone or by email and does not accept payment in Bitcoin or gift cards.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

 

Martin Cash

Martin Cash
Reporter

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

Read full biography

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