There’s one born ev­ery minute

The Glengarry News - - Front Page - - Richard Ma­honey [email protected]­gar­rynews.ca

The mes­sage on the an­swer­ing ma­chine has an omi­nous “World is about to end” tone to it. The tax peo­ple are on to you. Uh-oh. You owe the gov­ern­ment money, you are in big trou­ble, you must call this num­ber right away or the po­lice will be no­ti­fied. Beads of sweat form on your fore­head. Your heart is in your mouth.

How could this have hap­pened? You al­ways pay all your bills on time. And the mere thought of try­ing to find where you stored all your tax in­for­ma­tion is fright­en­ing.

But, wait a sec­ond. The mes­sage con­tin­ues. The warn­ing al­legedly is com­ing from “Of­fi­cer Jim Mor­ri­son.” That is strange. Why is the late lead singer of The Doors work­ing as a heavy for Rev­enue Canada? Skep­ti­cal in­stincts are ac­ti­vated; re­al­ity slowly slinks in. You heave a heavy sigh of re­lief when you re­al­ize you are not about to be hauled off by the tax col­lec­tor. And you feel slightly sheep­ish when you think that for a few pan­icky sec­onds you were al­most sucked in by one of the old­est, and clunki­est, scams go­ing.

Un­for­tu­nately, every­one re­ceives such bo­gus warn­ings, and too many of us take the bait. There is a sucker born ev­ery minute.

Thus, fraud­sters keep bilk­ing count­less num­bers of vic­tims out of count­less sums of money ev­ery day of the week.

And to try to counter this scourge, mas­sive sums of our tax dol­lars are spent to pre­vent fraud and to bring the crim­i­nals to jus­tice.

There are so many ways crooks steal from un­sus­pect­ing con­sumers. The Com­pe­ti­tion Bureau of Canada has a litany of frauds, “The Lit­tle Black Book of Scams.” The Cana­dian Anti-Fraud Cen­tre (www.an­tifraud­cen­tre.ca), man­aged by the RCMP, the Com­pe­ti­tion Bureau and the On­tario Pro­vin­cial Po­lice, has am­ple in­for­ma­tion on how to thwart crooks.

Some ba­sic facts merit re­peat­ing. For ex­am­ple, Canada Rev­enue Agency will never use ag­gres­sive or threat­en­ing lan­guage, threaten you with ar­rest or send po­lice, ask for pay­ments via pre­paid credit cards or gift cards, such as iTunes, Home De­pot, col­lect or dis­trib­ute pay­ments through In­terac e-trans­fer, or use text mes­sages to com­mu­ni­cate un­der any cir­cum­stances. Emails from the CRA never ask for fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion and never pro­vide fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion.

Dur­ing March, Fraud Pre­ven­tion Month, po­lice re­mind us to be ex­tra vig­i­lant of other schemes that ap­peal to our wal­lets and hearts.

Un­der the ro­mance scam, a crook with false ro­man­tic in­ten­tions gains the af­fec­tion and trust of a tar­get, and ac­cess to the vic­tim's money, bank ac­count and credit cards, and then va­mooses. In 2011, this ploy emerged as high­est gross­ing scam, with over $12 mil­lion in losses re­ported by Cana­di­ans. This scam has also led to in­ci­dents of sui­cide in cases where vic­tims have lost their life sav­ings and have been emo­tion­ally de­stroyed.

These scams have pro­lif­er­ated with the in­creased use of so­cial me­dia – so­cial net­work­ing sites and dat­ing sites.

Who does not like money? That is why an­other ver­sion of the tax scam is so ef­fec­tive. You get a text mes­sage or an email from the Canada Rev­enue Agency (CRA) claim­ing you're en­ti­tled to an ex­tra re­fund and all you need to do is pro­vide your bank­ing de­tails. Again, alarm bells ought to be sound­ing here. The thing is too of­ten the cyn­i­cal part of the brain is slow to re­act. It is hu­man na­ture to want to get a deal or cash in on a get-rich-quick scheme. It is hu­man na­ture to be gullible and trust­ing. At times, we sim­ply let our guard down and the un­scrupu­lous can rapidly cap­i­tal­ize on our inat­ten­tion.

For ex­am­ple, a few years back, a for­mer de­part­ment store em­ployee was re­count­ing how he and his col­leagues were once taken in by an am­bi­tious sho­plifter. A man ap­proached a clerk and asked if he could get help tak­ing a ca­noe out of the store and fas­ten­ing it to the top of a ve­hi­cle. Sure thing. Af­ter the brazen thief hap­pily sped away, the em­ploy­ees con­grat­u­lated them­selves on fi­nally hav­ing sold that bulky craft. The trou­ble was the crafty cus­tomer had never paid for the ca­noe. No­body had thought of ask­ing for proof of pay­ment. The story of the ca­noe ca­per would be re­told as a cau­tion­ary tale. But many other thefts go un­re­ported. Au­thor­i­ties urge vic­tims to re­port the fraud, re­gard­less of the amount in­volved. Don't be em­bar­rassed; your si­lence abets the crim­i­nals to con­tinue to vic­tim­ize.

Fraud­sters will tar­get you on­line, over the phone, by mail or in per­son. Al­though we live in a dig­i­tal age, many scammers still pre­fer the quaint, door-to-door, face-to-face tech­nique.

Years ago, al­most ev­ery com­mod­ity imag­in­able could be pur­chased from trav­el­ling sales­peo­ple. Cat­tle oint­ment, food, books and cloth­ing were just some of the items that’s could be pro­cured from itin­er­ant ven­dors, who might also hone shears, knives and scis­sors. But that per­sonal ap­proach also got a bad rep­u­ta­tion. In fact, not long ago, “No sales­per­son will call” was part of one com­pany’s sales pitch.

The On­tario gov­ern­ment has in­tro­duced a law against the un­so­licited door-to-door sales of a range of prod­ucts, such as air and wa­ter clean­ers, and duct-clean­ing ser­vices.

Sadly, il­licit ped­lars and scummy scammers rarely con­sult con­sumer pro­tec­tion laws be­fore hit­ting the road. And the mo­bile op­er­a­tors are hard to track down, be­cause they keep mov­ing and usu­ally have long left town be­fore their crimes have been de­tected.

Fraud pre­ven­tion is an­other rea­son why folks should deal with lo­cal, rep­utable busi­nesses. We think we are pretty savvy when it comes to spot­ting bad eggs. Yet suc­cess­ful crim­i­nals are sly. For in­stance, scammers can prey on the in­no­cent by op­er­at­ing be­hind the guise of seem­ingly le­git­i­mate com­pany fronts and web­sites.

There are also mis­con­cep­tions about these crimes. For in­stance, ev­i­dently, there are short-cuts to wealth that only a few peo­ple know. But if a se­lect few knew these se­crets to in­stant wealth, why would they be shar­ing this in­for­ma­tion with strangers?

We can­not as­sume that scams in­volve large sums of money. Some­times scammers tar­get a large num­ber of peo­ple and try to get a small amount of money from each per­son.

And scams are not al­ways about money. Some frauds are aimed at steal­ing per­sonal in­for­ma­tion from you. Iden­tity theft is huge. But you can take this to the bank: Knowl­edge is power. Con­sumers have to help them­selves by bon­ing up on fraud pre­ven­tion tips. You can do your part in fight­ing crime. It is sim­ple and easy. You just have to make a lit­tle ef­fort, and screen your calls care­fully.

Ev­ery day, crooks are try­ing to de­fraud us of our hard-earned money.

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