‘Everyone is basically at risk’: How to avoid falling victim to financial fraud

Alejandra Laria Aleaga was thrilled when a job offer landed in her inbox in October 2021.

At the time, she was in her final year of college and was actively seeking opportunities at video game companies and animation studios after graduating in illustration.

“I’m a college student with college debt desperate to find a job and make sure I have a job after graduation. I was very excited and I was like, ‘Oh wow, a video game company is asking me to work for them,'” Laria Aleaga recalled.

The email, which didn’t land in her spam folder, appeared to be from a reputable video game company in the United States, and mentioned that the company had found her through a portfolio website where aspiring artists share their creations, find work, she said.

Laria Aleaga said she then engaged in what appeared to be a legitimate hiring process that included interviewing via text message, signing a contract and purchasing gift cards to purchase equipment she was told would use for the new job from a manufacturer online need a promise that it will be refunded.

But it was all too good to be true, said the young professional who lives in Kingston, Ontario, and ended up losing $3,000.

“It made me feel really frustrated and just really, really stressed out,” she said.

While young Canadians may feel immune to financial fraud, they are most at risk, according to a recent survey by the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, with 63 percent of 18-34 year olds saying they have been a victim of at least one type of financial fraud in their Life – higher than any other population group.

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With financial fraud on the rise, experts say it’s crucial for young Canadians to remain cautious to avoid losing hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars.

“Always be vigilant and aware of the activities you undertake and the requests that come your way. And these requests can come through phone calls, text messages, and even social media,” said Mohamed Manji, TD’s vice president of Canadian fraud management.

Amid the rising cost of living, Manji said scammers are taking advantage of the vulnerability of Canadians simply trying to make ends meet.

In 2022, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center said it had received fraud and cybercrime reports of a staggering $530 million in victim losses, a nearly 40 percent increase from the previous year.

To protect yourself from financial fraud, Manji recommends keeping your PIN numbers and passwords both private and secure, not opening links from sources you don’t know, and regularly reviewing your financial transactions to monitor for suspicious activity .

Most importantly, it encourages people to become more educated about the types of financial fraud that exist, such as credit card fraud, email or phishing scams, and debit card fraud.

“Take the time to learn about the common types of scams and how to protect yourself,” Manji said.

“Additionally, with any financial transaction, you should know who you are dealing with and ask probing questions. Take a step back and ask yourself if you’re noticing any red flags, if you’re being pressured, if someone is telling you to lie. If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it could likely be a scam.”

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Garth Sheriff, a financial literacy volunteer at CPA Canada and founder of Sheriff Consulting, said it’s important to make sure the websites where you enter your personal information are secure — beginning with “https” and with a lock icon — and that You take a moment to ask yourself what information you are being asked for and whether it is necessary.

“Typically, these few diagnostic steps can stop you from entering information into a potentially fraudulent website, email or app,” he said.

However, if you fall victim to a financial scam, according to the sheriff, you should not feel ashamed. He suggests changing your passwords and reporting this to your financial institution, the Canadian Fraud Control Center, the police, and anyone you know to prevent them from becoming victims too.

“A lot of that also makes us spread the word about it,” Sheriff said.

“So just make sure you know where to go if it happens and that we keep everyone else posted on what’s happening.”

In hindsight, Laria Aleaga said there were some red flags that she wished they had noticed from the fake job offer she received.

She said the experience taught her to be wary of email job offers, always look for unsolicited companies, create strong passwords, frequently check her bank statements, and ask several questions before disclosing personal information passes on.

She advises other young Canadians to take similar protective measures.

“Especially when people are really adamant and forcing you to make a purchase or something like that, you should be aware of that,” she said.

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“We always think it’s seniors who are the victims of financial fraud, but I think as scammers get more sophisticated, basically everyone is at risk of it — everyone’s fair game.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on March 21, 2023.

Noushin Ziafati, The Canadian Press

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