There’s one born every minute
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.