If you don’t appreciate having money stolen from you, you might want to listen up: Con artists have figured out a new way to scam us, and it’s costing Canadians millions of dollars every year.
The way it works should sound a little familiar: A fraudster will call you posing as someone else, be it a CRA agent, police officer or even a family member. They will then describe a scenario that requires immediate action (and money), while failure to act will result in a massive consequence. For example: Your “grandson” might call saying he just got into a car accident, and if he doesn’t get money now he’s going to jail. Or they might say you owe money in back taxes and if you don’t pay up immediately, you’re going to jail. Sometimes they even have inside information on you, like how much tax money you actually owe to the CRA, which only makes their claim more believable.
The frazzled victims, meanwhile, in the heat of their panic, listen as the scammer instructs them to pay whatever fake charge they’ve come up with via a prepaid credit card (red flag, people. RED FLAG). Sometimes, these victims don’t even have prepaid cards but are instructed to get them to complete the payment. The fraudsters will then demand the numbered codes on the cards. And as soon as those are handed over, you can kiss that money goodbye.
It may not sound like something you’d fall for, but since the beginning of 2014, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has received 1,344 complaints from victims of such scams, while the financial losses have totaled more than $3 million. Those numbers don’t even represent everyone affected, since only about five per cent of victims actually bother to contact the centre (after all, it can be embarrassing to admit you were tricked.)
So, why are these scammers targeting prepaid credit cards?
“They’re a lot closer to pure cash,” Daniel Williams with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre said. “They’re basically gift cards you can buy at an Esso gas station.”
With normal credit cards, there’s an application process and more protections involved, making it harder to pull the scams off. But don’t worry, there are some things you can do to protect yourself — even when using the prepaid variety.
Williams says that if a stranger ever calls your phone and for whatever reason wants any of the following: money, property, or identification, that you “absolutely have the right to verify them.” Companies will sometimes post disclaimers online when they’ve become the subject of a fraud.
If the person on the phone is threatening that a family member is about to go to jail, attempt to contact that person directly. There’s never really a situation that would warrant a money-now-or-you-go-to-jail-type scenario anyway. This is Canada!
For more information on how you can spot a scam, check this out.
Now, let’s all take a moment to collectively raise our middle fingers at the heartless thieves of the world. We all hate you.