Your personal information is a gold mine for fraudsters
You may not think that you have any highly coveted information. So why would cybercriminals be interested in you? Actually, fraudsters look for identities just like yours to avoid raising any suspicion about their crimes.
Using details about your identity (last name, first name, address, social insurance number, bank information), a fraudster could use your information to apply for mortgage loans or credits cards in your name. Your identity could also be used to create a fake passport or driver’s license.
How to protect your personal information
Keep your information safe by limiting how much you share it. Only provide it when necessary. It may feel normal to provide your first and last name and your address when creating an account somewhere, but if there’s a security breach on the website, the information could fall into the hands of fraudsters.
Be vigilant with what you share on social media, too. Using fraudulent messages that appear to come from trustworthy sources, a scammer could try to obtain your personal information. This is called phishing; it’s one of the biggest issues when it comes to Internet fraud, and is often done through email,text message or by phone.
For targeted attacks, cybercriminals also use social media. The personal information you share on your account (your identity, but also your workplace, your birthday and your interests) could help increase the credibility of a phishing attack on you. This is called social engineering. To avoid this kind of intrusion, check your privacy settings (by default, your profile may be public) and beware of fake or unknown profiles.
How to protect your login information
Using your usernames and passwords, a cybercriminal could access your accounts and commit Internet fraud. Your login information could also be sold to other cybercriminals on the dark web, an unregulated part of the Internet that’s often associated with illegal practices.
To protect your login information from getting stolen, create a strong password unique to each account and enable two-factor authentication whenever it’s offered. Protect your home computer by keeping your software and antivirus up to date.
7 fictional examples of bank fraud
1. Don’t believe every email or text message you receive
Zoe, a publicist, experienced a phishing scam last fall. “A fraudster posed as my Internet service provider and told me that they needed to refund an overpayment that I’d made to my account. I was told to click on a link via text to retrieve my money. The next day, I saw that hundreds of dollars were missing from my account. That’s when it sunk in that they’d stolen my banking information.”
In this kind of situation, refrain from answering messages of this sort or clicking on attached links, and never give out your personal and banking details via email or text message. When in doubt, phone the company that is requesting the information.
2. Don’t let your guard down in the face of unexpected situations
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a great opportunity for fraudsters. Jonathan, a young 25-year-old entrepreneur, learned this the hard way. “Given the crisis, I was worried about my company’s future. I was monitoring the situation closely. I found an app that allowed me to track the progress of the pandemic across the world using a map and statistics. One day, my bank informed me of a login from a new device. As I tried to understand how this could have happened, I found out that this app contained hidden software that stole my information.”
Fraudsters can take advantage of a climate of fear related to the current situation to perpetuate their crimes.
3. Don’t share your bank details over social media
Stephanie, a political science student, wanted to help a friend out after she supposedly lost her wallet while on vacation in Australia. Unfortunately, the person on the other end turned out to be a scammer and had hacked her friend’s account on a popular social platform. “The scammer mimicked my friend’s writing style to a tee. The next thing I know, close to $3,000 is charged to my credit card. It’s certainly the last time I’ll ever share my bank details through a conversation on social media. If it’s really an emergency, I’ll get on the phone with that person and handle it directly that way.”
If you find yourself in this kind of situation, it’s important to refrain from divulging your banking information, unless you are using a secure line of communication.
4. Don’t share personal information about your identity
Last month, Daniel had his identity stolen. “I’ve been freelancing for a few years and I often included my social insurance number on invoices. One day, I went to take out money on my credit card, but the transaction was declined, even though I’d always paid my bill on time. I called my bank and the advisor told me they could no longer issue me cash advances because of my credit score. I requested a credit report for the first time and saw that several loans had been taken out when I’ve never taken out a loan in my life.”
In this kind of situation, you should provide proof of identity other than your social insurance number. Before providing personal information, ask how your details will be used and whether they’ll be sent to any third parties. To be on the safe side, you can also request a copy of your credit report from credit reporting agencies.
5. Don’t pounce too quickly on online deals
As the popularity of online shopping continues to grow each year, so too have the instances of fraud. Julie, who works in the restaurant business, can attest to this. “It happened during Black Friday. I was shopping for an online deal on shoes that I’d been eyeing for a while when I came across an offer that was too good to pass up. I got so excited that I didn’t bother to check whether the site was legit. In the end, I was swindled out of $1,500 and never received the shoes. Now, even when it’s not an impulsive buy, I’ll take the time to check the website and its reputation, and go with trusted sites even if it means losing out on a deal.”
It’s important to exercise common sense. If an offer appears too good to be true, it may very well be a fraud attempt or a trap.
6. Don’t be blinded by love
After chatting with a few users on a dating website, Eric, a university professor, thought he had finally found “The One.” “We spent a month talking online every day and it felt like we were on the same wavelength. But, strangely, we never got around to meeting. One day, she wrote me in a panic, telling me that her mother had major health problems and that she needed $7,000 to pay for hospital bills. She said she didn’t have the money and pleaded with me to lend it to her. Under the spell of her sweet words, I cracked and transferred her the money. But once that was done, I never heard from her again.”
7. Exercise caution when buying or selling stuff online
Fraud is increasingly becoming an issue on peer-to-peer marketplace sites. Arthur experienced it firsthand a few months ago. “I wanted to buy a cell phone for cheap on a marketplace website. The seller asked me to pay through Canada Post, saying it was safer and faster. I shouldn’t have trusted him, but I did. I never received my phone, and a lot of the money in my account went missing.”
Be very vigilant when choosing a website if you’re sending a money transfer. Scammers typically use these services and will even go as far as to produce fake documents. Your best course of action is to stick to local and in-person transactions, or to use secure payment services like Interac.
What to do if you’re a victim of fraud
If your information has been leaked and you think you're at risk, you can contact your bank. They’re there to advise you and to tell you what you can do. Keep a close eye on your bank accounts. As soon as you notice anything fraudulent, report the bank fraud by quickly contacting your financial institution using the number on the back of your debit or credit card. Your bank will freeze this card to prevent other fraudulent transactions from going through and issue a refund as soon as possible, after they’ve made the necessary verifications. They will also conduct an investigation related to this case of fraud. You can also report the bank fraud to the police by calling them or going to your local police station.
For your safety, banks and some insurance companies also provide assistance in case of fraud. They will help you through the steps you need to follow if you’re a victim of fraud.
No one is safe from falling into such a trap, but these tips should help you be safer and avoid a lot of headaches and major financial losses.
You can refer to our ABCs of security at any time.