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

By Noushin Ziafati
THE CANADIAN PRESS

Alejandra Laria Aleaga was thrilled to see a job offer pop into her inbox in October 2021.

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

“Me being a student with student debt and sort of desperate to find a job and make sure that I had a job after I graduated, I got really 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, seemed to be from a reputable video game company in the United States and mentioned that the company found her through a portfolio website where up-and-coming artists share their creations in order to find work, she said.

Laria Aleaga said she then proceeded to engage in what appeared to be a legitimate hiring process, which involved an interview over text messages, signing a contract and purchasing gift cards to buy equipment she was told she needed for the new job from a manufacturer online with the promise that she would be reimbursed.

But it was all too good to be true, said the young professional living in Kingston, Ont., and she 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, a recent survey by the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada says they are the most at risk, with 63 per cent of those aged 18 to 34 reporting being a victim of at least one type of financial fraud in their lifetime — higher than any other demographic.

And with financial fraud on the rise, experts say it’s crucial for young Canadians to remain cautious in order to avoid losing hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars.

“Always be vigilant and pay attention to the activity you’re conducting and vigilant of the requests coming your way. And these requests can come through phone calls, SMS, even on social media,” said Mohamed Manji, vice president of Canadian Fraud Management at TD.

Amid the rising costs of living, Manji said fraudsters are preying on the vulnerability of Canadians who are simply trying to make ends meet.

In 2022, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre said it received fraud and cybercrime reports totalling a staggering $530 million in victim losses, nearly a 40 per cent increase from the year before.

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

Most importantly, he encourages people to become better informed of the types of financial fraud that exist such as credit card fraud, email or phishing fraud and debit card fraud.

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

“In addition, whenever you conduct financial transactions, you should be sure to know who you’re dealing with and ask probing questions. Take a step back and ask yourself if you notice any red flags, if you’re being pressured, if someone is asking you to lie. If the answer is yes to any of these, chances are it could be a scam.”

Garth Sheriff, a financial literacy volunteer with CPA Canada and founder of Sheriff Consulting, said it’s important to ensure the websites that you enter your personal information into are secure — starting with “https” and featuring a lock symbol — and that you take a moment to ask yourself what information you’re being asked to provide and whether it’s necessary.

“Usually, those couple of diagnostic steps may stop you from entering information into potentially a fraudulent website or an email or an app,” he said.

However, if you fall victim to financial fraud, Sheriff said you shouldn’t be ashamed. He suggests changing your passwords and reporting it to your financial institution, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, police, as well as people you know to help prevent them from becoming a victim, too.

“A lot of this is also making sure we spread the word about it,” said Sheriff.

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

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

She said the experience taught her to be wary of email job offers, always do research on companies that reach out unprompted, create strong passwords, frequently check her bank statements, and ask several questions before sharing personal information.

Her advice to other young Canadians is to take similar protective measures.

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

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