The 10 Biggest Scams of 2015 and How to Avoid Them

At one point or another we’ve all received an email claiming to be from a long lost relative in serious need of money. Or maybe you’ve received a phone call from a company eager to inform you that you’ve won a cruise.

Scams can come in a variety of forms, and they’re now becoming more complex and difficult to detect.

Last year, Canadians reported $61 million lost in fraudulent scams, but this number should actually be much higher as only five per cent of people actually come forward to report scams.

So to kick off fraud prevention month, the Better Business Bureau held a press conference to highlight popular scams from 2015 that consumers should watch out for.

1. Top Extortion Scam: CRA Income Tax Scam
Total Loss = 
$2.991 Million
This scam may not have lost the most money, but it did generate the most complaints from consumers.
People said they had received emails and aggressive phone calls urgently telling them to pay a fictitious tax return debt. They were told they must pay by credit card immediately or face court charges, jail or deportation. Remember, the CRA will never request payment for taxes by a prepaid credit card, nor will they ever ask for private information that you wouldn’t have already have included on your tax return.

2. Top Heartbreak Scam: Catphishing
Total Loss =
 $15.62 Million
When you’re looking for love and taking a chance with online dating, it’s hard to not believe the person you could be talking with. People lost the most money to this scam last year. Scammers work to gain their victim’s trust, while never meeting face to face. Remember to never give out any personal information or send money to someone you have never met.

3. Top Prize Scam: Fake Lottery Winnings
Total Loss = $6.597 Million
This scam works when people convince their victims they have won a prize in the U.S. lottery or a vacation but have to pay a fee to collect to collect their prize. If you don’t remember entering the contest, you didn’t win. Before giving out any personal information to “claim” a prize, ask to see the details of the prize in writing and carefully read the fine print. Some vacation prize giveaways may actually cost you more than what you’re willing to pay.

4. Top Financial Scam: Investment Fraud
Total Loss = 
$6.072 Million
Investment fraudsters will lure you in by gaining your trust and offering to invest your money into investments or pyramid schemes that don’t exist. Victims are often told they’re guaranteed high returns on their investments. Before you do any kind of investing, always get a second opinion to confirm that the investors are actually legit.

5. Top Employment Scam: Secret Shopper
Total Loss = $3.952 Million
Being a secret shopper is often an easy job to make some extra cash. But if a company ever sends you a cheque and asks you to deposit a portion and send the rest back, it’s most likely a scam. The Better Business Bureau says that any job that asks you to give them money or pay an admin fee is not a job, it’s a scam.

6. Top Subscription Scam: Free Trial Traps
Total Loss = 
$2.982 Million
Free trial traps occur when consumers are asked to sign up for a free trial of a service pay a nominal fee. Once the scammers have your credit card information, you’re then enrolled in paying a monthly subscription. To prevent this from happening, make sure to always read the terms and conditions before signing up for anything.

7. Top Imposter Scam: Spear Phishing
Total Loss = 
$5.826 Million
Spear phishing occurs when you think you’re on a website or emailing with someone that you recognize, but they’re actually insecure links that can trick you into signing up for something and you can lose money. Remember to only shop or browse on secure websites; you can tell if a website is legit by looking for a ‘lock’ symbol in the URL.

Image: InvinceA

8. Top Private Sale Scam: Overpayment/Refund
Total Loss = 
$5.322 Million
This scam occurs when someone sells something online on Craigslist or Kijiji and someone buys what you’re selling and sends you too much money for the product. They will then ask you to send the difference back, but often the cheque they sent is fake. Just remember that when selling something online, try to only sell to someone local, in person and with cash.

9. Top Emergency Scam: Fake Relative Needs Cash
Total Loss = 
$1.952 Million
It’s extremely simple for someone to find out personal information about you through social media, from a relative’s name to even your phone number. People can use this information to tell you they need money or that they’re in trouble. Remember to keep your social media settings private and never send money to someone you don’t know.

10. Top Lending Scam: Advance Fee Loans
Total Loss = $989,634
Advance fee loans are when a company asks for a fee upfront to secure a loan, which is illegal in Canada. If you ever need to use a money lending company, first check with the BBB to confirm that it’s a legitimate organization and remember to never send any money if a company needs it to secure a loan.

If you have ever fallen victim to any type of scam, law enforcement wants to know about it as scams are becoming more sophisticated and difficult to track.

To avoid a scam happening to you, the Better Business Bureau recommends changing your passwords frequently, monitoring your bank statements, always reading the fine print, and exercise privacy on social media.

Stay alert and stay safe.