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Don't fall victim to a scam

WARNING: Your computer may be infected by a virus. Take preventative action now! While this flashing across your screen may entice you to take action, that is the last thing you should do.

WARNING: Your computer may be infected by a virus. Take preventative action now!

While this flashing across your screen may entice you to take action, that is the last thing you should do. By allowing someone to take remote access to your computer, you are opening yourself up to a variety of frauds. Be extremely cautious. Chances are, it is a scam.

Established in January, 1993, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) aims to fight against what seems to be an increasing number of scams throughout the country. The CAFC is a joint operation between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Competition Bureau Canada, and the Ontario Provincial Police. These organizations play a key role in educating the public about mass marketing fraud scams.

These scams put tens of thousands of Canadians at risk every year and account for millions of dollars lost. The total number of telephone calls received and handled through the CAFC toll free line has increased to 49,837 complaints of fraud in 2010. While the total number of calls has increased, the total number of MMF victims and MMF reported dollar loss has thankfully decreased. The number of victims in 2010 was 3,603 with a reported dollar loss of $53,843,364.58.

Telephone and fax are reported as the most prevalent methods used to solicit Canadian consumers. But these methods are not alone. In fact, Canadian victims of e-mail, internet and text messaging report the highest total reported dollar loss.

A number of scams and frauds are listed on the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre website. These include everything from 900 scams, to cheque overpayment frauds, to emergency scams. It includes false charities, vehicle warranty package scams, identity theft, inheritance fraud, service scams, prize pitches and pyramid schemes. The diversity is alarming and means that anyone can fall victim to fraud these days.

The leading fraud schemes, as reported by Canadian complainants in 2010 are service scams, prize scams, sale of merchandise scams, emergency scams, and merchandise scams.

So what are those? CFAC provides detailed information of the types of scams on their website at

Service scams include "any false, deceptive or misleading promotion of services or solicitation for services. These scams typically involve third parties that make offers for telecommunications, internet, finance, medical and energy services. This category of scams may also include, but is not limited to, offers such as extended warranties, insurance and sales services."

Prize scams are "any false, deceptive or misleading solicitation advising victims they have won or have a chance to win something, but are required to purchase something first or pay an advance fee, such as taxes to receive the prize."

Sale of merchandise scams include "any incident involving a consumer selling merchandise or a service and receiving a fraudulent payment, commonly for more than the asking price. These schemes usually involve suspects using compromised credit cards or counterfeit/altered monetary instrument (e.g. cheque, money order). The vendor is then asked to send the extra amount back (e.g. send it to the shipping agent). Consumers and merchants are often responsible to pay back any funds and may lose the sold merchandise if it has been shipped."

Emergency scams are "any phone call or e-mails from someone claiming to be a friend or family member stating to be in some kind of trouble, usually being arrested, involved in a car accident or trapped in a foreign country and need money immediately for bail, medical fees or a ticket home. This is sometimes referred to as the Grandparent Scam."

Merchandise scams are "any products purchased through classified ads over the Internet or Internet auction sites or through a catalogue or by mail order, and never receiving the items or receiving the product which is of inferior value, quality or it is not what it is supposed to be."

With the growing number of scams, how is one to know what is real and what is not? The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre aims to combat this increasing issue. So what do you look for? The CFAC has an abundance of information provided on their website and outline a number of factors that can help individuals recognize a scam.

If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is. Winning a big prize or a contest that you don't recall entering is not a good sign. Buying into an once-in-a-lifetime investment that offers a huge return? Think twice.

If you have to pay to play, that is never a good sign. You shouldn't have to send money to the caller in order to pay for delivery, processing, taxes or duties if you have won something.

If the caller wants you to give them your private financial information, don't. Businesses that are honest do not require these details unless you are contacting them, and you are choosing to use a specific method of payment.

If you are required to pay in cash or a money order, look into it further. Criminal telemarketers ask for cash for a reason. It is untraceable and unlike credit cards, it cannot be cancelled.

If the caller is more excited than you are, be concerned. Their goal is to get you excited about their 'special opportunity' so that you won't be able to think clearly.

If it is the manager calling, there may be something up. If the person calling claims to be a person in authority whether that be a tax officer, banking official, lawyer or government official and asks personal or lifestyles questions, you should be thinking twice.

If the person calling wants to be your new best friend, hang up. Crooks look for people that are lonely and willing to talk. Once they have established this 'relationship', they will try to convince you into their scam.

If it is a 'limited opportunity' and you are going to miss out if you don't act now, it is probably not legitimate. Scam artists try to pressure you into making a decision immediately, so you don't have time to think about it. Real charities and businesses will give you a chance to think about it and research them before deciding on your course of action.

So, what can you do to protect yourself? There are a number of things.

Legitimate telemarketers have nothing to hide. You have the right to check out any caller by requesting written information, a call back number, references and time to think the offer over.

And the best thing to do if you have doubts about a caller is to simply hang up. It is not rude, it is smart.

Use the 5-second rule. If you have a phone call that is suspicious, do not give the caller more than 5-seconds of your time. Simply say "No thank you. I am not interested," and hang up the phone.

Use your caller ID. You pay for the service so you might as well use it to your advantage. If there is a call from a number that you do not recognize, a call from an unknown number, an automated registry or anything else suspicious, do not answer it or be prepared to use the 5-second rule if you do.

If you are in doubt, get advice from a close friend or relative, or even your banker. Rely on people you can trust.

And finally, make use of the resources available to you. The CFAC has been developed for a reason, and they encourage your phone calls concerning possible fraud. If you don't know whether it is legitimate or illegitimate, make the phone call (1-888-495-8501) and find out. Your protection is worth the call.