March is Fraud Awareness Month, and RCMP continue their efforts to educate people on protecting themselves from telephone and online scammers. In the first months of 2015, Red Deerians have been approached by scammers who threaten to cut off their electricity, lure them into compromising situations then threaten blackmail, tell them they’ve won contests they didn’t enter, and used local phone numbers to mask their identities.
Several businesses have received calls within the last few weeks from scammers claiming to represent their electricity and gas providers; the scammers have claimed utility bills are overdue and have threatened to disconnect utilities immediately unless they are paid through pre-paid VISA cards. The scammers called on a Friday afternoon, using the time of day to pressure their target into making a hasty decision for fear of losing business activity over the weekend.
“It’s a red flag whenever someone asks to be paid by pre-paid credit cards, gift cards or via electronic money transfers,” says Constable Carmen Kiener of the Red Deer RCMP fraud section. “Credible businesses do not accept payment in these ways. Scammers use it because the money is then nearly impossible to track.”
Red Deer RCMP also continue to receive complaints of Extortion by Libel, or “sextortion”. These situations generally involve men being approached online by women who lure them into compromising online encounters. The female suspects then approach their victims again, claiming to have recorded the encounter and threatening to post it online unless they are paid by their victims.
“It’s difficult to lay charges in cases like this, because these online profiles are fake and often they live in different countries,” says Kiener. “Our advice, always, is to use the privacy settings on social media accounts, to be very cautious about whom you befriend online, and to not let anyone – friends or strangers – talk you into doing anything that you wouldn’t want your family, your employer or your friends to see.”
RCMP also wish to warn the public about “number spoofing” – a practice where scammers use technology to mask the phone number they are calling from and make the call appear to be coming from a local business or individual. Some scammers use the names of real charities or organizations. Red Deer RCMP have received reports of citizens receiving calls that display as coming from The City of Red Deer, when in fact the calls are from scammers, probably in a different country.
The vacation scam is also prevalent in the Red Deer area right now: scammers use robo-callers and number spoofing to avoid detection; they claim their victim has won a vacation, then use high pressure tactics in asking for credit card information in order to pay the “taxes.”
“RCMP advise people to ask for verification names, phone numbers and other business information,” says Kiener. “Then don’t call back to a number given to you by the original caller – look up the organization in the phone book or online and contact them through their usual channels. Ask if they are legitimately making calls in your area and ask to speak to the people whose names you were given.”
Whether the request is from a legitimate company or a scammer, RCMP encourage people to ask a lot of questions and not be pressured into hasty decisions by aggressive people on the other end of the line. “It’s your time, your money, and your phone they’re calling,” says Kiener. “You have the right to ask as many questions as you need to, and take as much time as you need to, in order to decide if they merit your trust.”
RCMP offer the following suggestions to avoid becoming a victim of a scam or fraud:
· Do not give out personal information, over the phone or otherwise, unless you were the one to initiate contact and it is an organization you trust.
· Ask for written information about the person, business or charity. Ask for identification and registered charity numbers. Confirm the validity of the information you are given by looking up their phone number and website yourself rather than using the information they offer you.
· Do not send any money or pay a fee to claim a prize.
· Be suspicious if this is a “today only” offer. If it is truly a legitimate deal, it will be there tomorrow.
Be wary of appeals that tug at your heart strings, especially pleas involving current events.
· Treat your personal information with care, do not leave it lying around for others to take.
· Shred old bills, statements, credit cards, etc.
· Rely on established businesses or individuals, whose reliability and credibility can be established through a professional organization such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB) or the Chamber of Commerce.
How to report fraud:
If you have not lost money but suspect you have been targeted, contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre:
1-888-495-8501 or report online at www.antifraudcentre.ca
If you receive a suspicious email soliciting your financial information, advise the bank/ agency involved.
If you are a victim of fraud, contact your local police and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre:
Red Deer RCMP complaint line: 403-343-5575
Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre: 1-888-495-8501 or report online at www.antifraudcentre.ca
For more information, visit the Scams and Fraud section of the RCMP website: www.rcmp-grc.ab.ca