British Columbians lost a whopping $70 million to hackers, thieves and scams last year, according to the B.C. Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) annual list of most common scams affecting people of our province.
Through research and community consultation, BBB B.C. identifies which scams are most likely stealing the identity or money of British Columbians. The agency reports that more websites and more world chaos contributes to an increase in scamming, but where does this theft hit us the hardest?
Top areas for scamming in the province are the auto industry, fraudulent charities, identity theft, social media, online dating, utilities billing, finance, sales, big data and advertising. With the growing digital world, BBB B.C. says “technology continues to help scammers cast a wider net for people to be susceptible.” This wider net accounts for the majority of BBB’s top scams.
“It is a space that is easier for hackers and fraudsters to set up shop, and they are getting very good at deception. It is easy for these crooks to replicate trusted brands and hit as many potential victims as possible all at once,” the agency states in a release.
The $70 million taken from British Columbians last year is a 32 per cent increase over 2013’s $53 million. The Better Business Bureau hopes its message will help people become more aware of the scams threatening us today. To safeguard ourselves, “education is key”, according to BBB.
This week’s list makes note of one pervasive scam targeting businesses and homes.
“The scammer calls up claiming to be from BC Hydro and threatens to cut off power unless a bill is paid immediately with a Visa Gift Card. There are red flags all over this fake billing scheme.”
BBB B.C. believes more awareness around the most popular scams, including learning how to recognize and report one, is the best way to “defeat this often faceless enemy”.
Here are BBB B.C.’s top scams, how to recognize one and tips to protect yourself.
BBB’s Top 10 Scams of 2014
1. Top Auto Scam – Automotive Online Pricing
Doing your research on a vehicle before buying is always important. These scammers cash in when a buyer does not do their homework and have the car inspected or check what the car is actually worth. A vehicle history report, a little online sleuthing or a purchase from a licensed dealer can be just the protection you need.
Tip: Find out the history of the vehicle before you buy.
2. Top Emotional Scam – Disaster Charity Fraud
A disaster strikes a far off country, or tragedy strikes closer to home. Scammers know we open our wallets in times of need and they have no apathy when it comes to taking your money posing as a fake charity instead. Fraudulent websites pop up when bad things happen. Do not be taken in by slick websites that look like a real charity.
Tip: Donate to organizations you have given to in the past.
3. Top Identity Theft – Remote Computer Repair
The phone rings, the person on the other end claims to be from software giant Microsoft. They insist your computer is infected with a virus and needs to be fixed. At best they are trying to sell you software that you likely do not need. At worst they are trying to get you to open your computer up to malware in order to steal your identity.
Tip: Do not give anyone remote access to your computer unless you initiated contact.
4. Top Social Media Scam – Fake Facebook Friend Request
A friend who is already a Facebook friend wants to be friends…again. Or perhaps the request is from someone you do not know and is not connected to any of your legitimate friends. These scammers want the personal information stored in your profile and often send links to open your computer to malware.
Tip: If you question the validity of the request, just turn it down.
5. Top Romance Scam – Catphishing/Online Dating scam
As online dating becomes more popular, so do the scams involving them. Catphishers are after your personal information and your money. Learn to spot a catphisher if you are in the online dating world. They will offer emails and phone numbers right away and the relationship will feel like it is moving too fast.
Tip: Meet the person face to face before giving any personal information out.
6. Top Utilities Scam – Fake Billing
This scam has hit every province in the country. The scammer calls up a business claiming to be from the local hydro service provider. They threaten to cut off power unless an overdue bill is paid within a specified time frame. The odd thing is, they want the bill paid buy Visa Gift Card. Big red flag.
Tip: Understand that hydro companies do not do business in this way.
7. Top Finance Scam – Online Affinity Fraud
The online world offers investment fraudsters a whole new audience to unleash their scams. They join forums, chat rooms or social networking sites to gain the trust of a group. They leverage these contacts to meet face to face which helps them sell their Ponzi scheme. A Ponzi scheme is a ploy to get people to invest in a ‘cannot lose’ business. They use that money to pay off early investors and eventually the whole thing collapses.
Tip: Do not fall for investments that offer no risk or guarantee returns.
8. Top Sales Scam – Redirected Robocalls
You get a call and a lovely automated voice informs you that you have won $1000 towards your next flight. Often carriers like WestJet are mentioned in the ruse. You are prompted to press a number to go to the next step and find yourself talking to a salesperson pushing cheap Mexican vacation packages.
Tip: Do not follow through with robocall prompts.
9. Top Big Data Scam – Big Box Breach
These scams have been all over the news and affect a lot of people at once. Big box stores such as Target and Home Depot have fallen victim to data breach. That means credit and debit card information for millions of consumers land in the hands of computer hackers.
Tip: Change your passwords frequently.
10. Top Ad Scam – Fake Online Reviews
Almost all of us seek online reviews before spending our cash or making that reservation. However, a Harvard study found 20% of those reviews are fake. Most review sites do not vet submissions so you have to train yourself on how to spot them. Fake reviews, often called ‘astroturfing,’ contain over-the-top language such as “Can’t be missed!” or “Life changing!”
Tip: While reviews can be helpful, take them with a grain of salt and learn how to spot the fakes.