According to the  Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), many scams are targeted to older adults as well as students and small businesses, but we’re all vulnerable.  Here, we’ve rounded up the most common scams making their rounds and how you can stay ahead of them.

1. Identity theft

Scammers are constantly looking for ways to collect or reproduce your personal information to commit fraud. And when it comes to identity theft, the stakes are high.

With the right information, these thieves can use your account to make purchases, obtain passports, apply for loans and even receive government benefits.

They look for your credit card information, bank account details, full name and signature, date of birth, social insurance number, full address, mother’s maiden name, online usernames and passwords, driver’s licence number, and passport number.

The techniques used to obtain this sensitive information vary in sophistication. Offline, fraudsters will go through your trash or steal your mail, while online they collect information through phishing emails and viruses.

Tips to stay ahead:

  • Avoid providing your personal information over the phone, via text message, email or the Internet.
  • Avoid using public computers and Wi-Fi hotspots to access or provide personal information. This includes online banking and shopping.
  • Create strong and unique passwords for your online accounts or consider using a password manager service.
  • Password-protect your devices and home Wi-Fi network
  • Use a secure and reputable payment service when shopping online. Look for a URL starting with “https” and a closed padlock symbol, which indicates a website is secure.
  • Avoid providing personal information over social media. It can be used along with your photo to commit fraud.
  • Shield your PIN when using your debit or credit card and don’t lose sight of it if you hand it over to the cashier.
  • Shred and destroy documents containing personal information.

2. Subscription Scams

We’ve all signed up for a free trial and forgotten to cancel. With legitimate companies, putting a stop to the service and payments is easy.

Unfortunately, fraudsters are also making use of the enticing nature of free trials, offering products that include everything from weight loss pills and health foods to pharmaceuticals and anti-aging products.

After providing your credit card information, scammers lock you into a monthly payment that is very difficult to withdraw from. If any products arrive at all, they’re often of inferior quality.

Tips to stay ahead:

  • If it’s too good to be true, don’t sign up.
  • Check reviews on the company before you sign up. The Better Business Bureau  is one of your best sources for information.
  • Don’t bother signing up if you can’t find or understand the terms and conditions and pay close attention to pre-checked boxes, cancellation clauses, return policies and any vague charges.
  • If you go ahead with a free trial, keep all documents, receipts, emails and text messages.
  • Check your credit card statement for frequent or unfamiliar charges

3. Health and medical scams

Fraudsters also target those with declining health, offering miracle cures and weight loss programs or advertising for fake online pharmacies. In most cases they appear as sponsored posts on social media or website pop-ups and often claim to be endorsed by a celebrities.

If you do receive the promised products at all, there’s no guarantee that they’re real or safe to use.

Tips to stay ahead:

  • Be suspicious of advertisements for magical cures and weight loss programs promising quick and easy fixes. Ask your health care provider if you’re curious about alternative treatments and medicine.
  • Watch out for online advertising for magical cures or weight loss programs that offer quick and easy fixes.
  • Be wary of online pharmacies offering extremely low prices or medication without a prescription
  • Be suspicious of high-pressure sales tactics, especially if a large advance payment or long-term contract is required.
  • Be skeptical of celebrity endorsement and testimonials

4. Tax scams

If you get a call or email from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) make sure it’s the real deal.

Fraudsters often call, email or text you posing as the CRA. In one variation of the scam they claim you’re entitled to an extra refund and require your banking details.

In another, they claim you owe the CRA money and threaten to report you to the police if you don’t pay immediately.

These claims can easily be confirmed by calling the CRA at 1-800-959-8281 or by logging in to their official website.

Tips to stay ahead:

Remember, the CRA will never:

  • Use aggressive or threatening language
  • Threaten you with arrest
  • Ask for payments via prepaid credit cards or gift cards
  • Collect or distribute payments using an Interac e-transfer
  • Use text messages to communicate under any circumstances
  • Request or provide financial information via email

The CRA’s accepted payment methods are:

  • Online banking
  • Debit card
  • Pre-authorized debit

5. Emergency scams

Emergency frauds often target the elderly. Typically the scammer pretends to be the target’s grandchild and claims to be in some sort of trouble that requires financial assistance. The distraught caller’s misfortune often includes car accidents, trouble with law enforcement or trouble returning home from a foreign destination.

In an attempt to cover their tracks, the scammer will also swear the victim to secrecy as if they’re embarrassed.

Another more elaborate variation of the scam involves another caller pretending to be a police officer or lawyer.

The same scam can also involve the impersonation of someone less familiar, like a neighbour or family friend.

Tips to stay ahead:

  • Take time to verify the story. The caller is counting on you taking action out of panic.
  • Call the child’s parents or friends to confirm their whereabouts.
  • Ask the caller questions that only your loved one would know the answers to.
  • Never send money to anyone you don’t know and trust.
  • Never provide personal information to the caller.

6. Sale of merchandise scams

When you sell merchandise online you open yourself up to a variety of scammers looking to trick you out of your merchandise, money or both.

In one variation, the fraudster will agree to purchase your item and ask you to ship it to an address.

You’ll get a PayPal or email money notification for a pending payment to be released only after a tracking number for the product is provided.

By the time you provide the number and realize the email notification is fake, the product is already well on its way.

In other instances, the scammer makes the purchase with a fake money transfer, fraudulent cheque or a stolen credit card.

In another variation, you will receive a message that indicates a problem with your PayPal or bank account. You’ll then be asked to pay a fee to open a business account to complete the transaction.

They then offer to pay the fee as long as you agree to reimburse them. Of course, once they receive the money, they’re in the wind.

Tips to stay ahead:

  • When selling merchandise online, always meet in a public place to complete an exchange.
  • Beware of emails with bad grammar.
  • Beware of buyers who want to buy a product without seeing it.
  • Never send money to receive money.

7. Romance scams

Online dating sites are also rife with scammers looking to take advantage of your romantic side. In fact, more than $22.5 million was lost to romance scams in 2018 in Canada, according to the RCMP  and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centresurpassing all other types of fraud.

After charming you with a fake photo and sweet talk, you learn of a sick family member or another desperate situation that requires your financial assistance.

While the majority of them disappear after they receive their money, some continue the correspondence, milking their victims for everything they can.

A more sophisticated romance scam involves the creation of a fake dating site where those who sign up pay a fee for each message sent or received. To keep you interested and paying, the scammer will send you vague emails about their love and affection for you.

In some cases, the scammer will even meet up with you in person to make the site seem more legitimate.

Tips to stay ahead:

  • Never send money or provide your financial details to anyone on a dating site.
  • Ask questions and carefully read the terms and conditions before signing up.
  • Make sure you only use legitimate and reputable dating sites. Take a close look at the website address, as fraudsters often attempt to replicate popular dating sites.
  • Trust your instincts. Be suspicious of anyone declaring their undying love for you after only a few letters, emails or phone calls.
  • Be suspicious of dodgy users who refuse to meet you in person.

8. The computer technician scam

My mother isn’t a gullible woman, yet she nearly fell victim to a fraudster on the phone claiming to be a computer technician.

After following instructions to enter a code into the search bar of her computer, a window popped up displaying several error messages. The “technician” claimed that the errors were caused by viruses and that he would remove them for a small fee charged to her credit card.

When she told him she would have to discuss it with her husband, the so-called technician went from politely persistent to rude and forceful. It was then she realized something was amiss.

Since my mother was nearly duped, the scam has evolved. Victims are often told, over the phone, that hackers have control of their computer and that they’ll be responsible for any wrongdoing. Under that pressure, the scammers persuade victims into downloading software or allowing remote access to their personal computers. With either scam, culprits can gain access to banking and credit card information, among other sensitive material.

Tips to stay ahead

  • It’s best to be suspicious of anyone trying to rush you into a decision over the phone. Asking if you can call them back is usually enough to scare them off.
  • Don’t touch your computer. These fraudsters know how to make it seem like your computer has serious problems. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

9. The vacation offer scam

We’ve all received that call: You pick up the phone to hear the unmistakable groan of a foghorn followed by an enthusiastic voice that exclaims, “This is your captain speaking!” Then comes the exciting revelation that you’ve won a dream cruise in a contest you’ve never entered. I’ve encountered this so often that once I hear the horn, I slam my phone down—or rather angrily tap at the End Call button on my smart phone.

And it’s a good thing that I do it.

In 2015, the CAFC received 1,072 vacation scam complaints. Out of those complaints, 139 people were defrauded. In most cases, these phone calls start like the captain’s call. A pre-recorded message—often using a legitimate company’s name—informs the potential victim that they’ve been awarded a discount on a trip if booked immediately. Once the prompts are followed, the call is transferred to a sales rep. Using high pressure sales tactics, victims are persuaded to hand over credit card information to pay for fees and taxes.

Tips to stay ahead

  • Scams over the phone rely on establishing a sense of urgency. With this particular scam, potential victims are told that the deal is a limited time offer. But don’t let anyone rush you into a decision. Ask for a name and a callback number. If they won’t give you a phone number, it’s a red flag.
  • Check the website of legitimate companies; they usually post warnings about these type of solicitations.
  • If it’s too good to be true, it usually is. Also, the Ontario government doesn’t require you to pay the tax on prizes.

10. The traffic ticket scam

With the advent of red light cameras, fraudsters are now issuing phony traffic tickets to their victims via email. The notice includes the reason for the infringement, an infringement number, the date of issue and the amount due. Individuals are told that the fine must be paid immediately and are provided a link. Once a target clicks on the link, they’re prompted to enter personal information.

These emails may also prompt you to open an attachment containing photographic evidence. Once opened, viruses or spyware may be downloaded onto your computer.

In another variation of the scam, targets are issued a notice to appear in court using the logo and website header of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Those who open the email are prompted to click on a hyperlink or attachment that contains malicious software.

Tips to stay ahead

  • Sometimes the best defense is education. Government bodies and police services never issue traffic notices through email. So if you get one of these emails, don’t even bother opening it.
  • Also, beware of unsolicited emails asking you to click on an attachment or link.

11. The spoof websites scam

It used to be that consumers could spot a counterfeit retailer simply from its storefront—or lack thereof. But now that they’ve taken to the Internet, they’re not so easy to detect.

These phony retailers are now spoofing legitimate websites and some have become quite good at it. These spoofs often have the same look and feel as the legitimate manufacturer and can be very convincing to the unsuspecting eye.

Tips to stay ahead

  • While these websites can be quite convincing, these fraudsters don’t have the time—or perhaps the smarts—to produce a perfect replica. Look for grammatical errors and spelling mistakes.
  • Once again, the deals on these sites are often too good to be true.
  • Also, legitimate retailers tend to use their company email. If a personal email like gmail or yahoo is listed as the website’s contact, you’re likely on a spoof site.

12. The mystery shopper scam

The allure of easy money can often be enough to override instincts. In this scam, victims answer an online job posting, email or text message ad for a mystery shopper position and are asked to assess a retailer’s customer service.

After receiving a check to help with purchases, they’re instructed to deposit it and keep a portion of it as payment. The remaining funds are to be used to assess customer service at a wire transfer service, like Western Union.

Soon after, the checks are returned as counterfeit and the “employee” is on the hook for the wired funds.

Tips to stay ahead

  • Scammers use legitimate websites to post their ads so be sure to search the company on the web before you reply.
  • Beware of unsolicited text messages offering employment.
  • Also, legitimate employers will never send funds only to ask for a portion of it to be returned.

13. The fake apps scam

Unfortunately, there’s an app for this too. Fraudsters are now taking advantage of the smartphone community by creating fake retail apps. Victims download these apps, which appear to be affiliated with a legitimate retailer, and are asked to enter their credit card information.

These apps aren’t found in the deepest recesses of the web, either. They can be downloaded from your smartphone’s app store or Google Play.

Alternatively, victims may receive an email prompting them to download a fake app.

Tips to stay ahead

  • Check the reviews. If an app has few or unfavourable reviews it’s best to steer clear.
  • Never click on a link in an email prompting you to download a new app.
  • Be wary of any app asking for credit card information.

A version of this story was published on March 12, 2018.