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How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Scams

Small clock icon 5 minute read


Adult male in blue shirt sitting at table. He is talking on a cell phone while looking at his laptop.

Unsolicited calls, suspicious links and surprise offers. It’s safe to say that most of us encounter more scams than we can count. Despite being everywhere, scores of people fall victim to these threats each year, regardless of their age or profession.

To help strengthen your defenses, we’ve rounded up 10 of the most common scams — along with ways to identify and outsmart them.

1. Social media

Scrolling on Facebook or Instagram, you suddenly get a message from a friend with an unusual link. You may be mildly curious, but whatever you do, don’t click it. Fraudulent activity is rampant on social media platforms.

Keep your social accounts private, limit the personal information you share and don’t click links unless you’re confident they’re safe. And, if someone reaches out asking to chat in return for “free” money, don’t accept it.

As an extra level of security, check pages you follow are legitimate. Un-verified pages representing large organizations or public figures can pose a risk to your account and personal information.

2. Tech support

A pop-up appears on your computer advising you to call a phone number because it’s “infected” with a virus. Or a representative from a software company calls you out of the blue: they need remote access to urgently fix your device (and ask for payment in return). Sound familiar? Both are examples of tech support scams.

Use antivirus software to prevent pop-ups and don’t call phone numbers from unsolicited notifications. Moreover, never give personal information or control of your device to a third-party unless you’ve initiated contact with the company.

3. Online purchase

Shopping scams mimic the website of reputable companies and offer products at too-good-to-be-true prices. After a purchase is made, these companies will send you low quality or counterfeit products — or worse, nothing. They may even use your credit card information.

Always study a company’s website before making a purchase — look out for typos and URLs (secure ones will always begin with “https”). Be wary if you’re being asked for more personal information than necessary or if prices are surprisingly cheap. Finally, watch out for vendors that request payment by EFT or wire transfer.

When making purchases on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist or Kijiji, suggest meeting at a safe place. Police stations are a great option to ensure your safety and that you’re not being duped.

4. Phishing

Phishing emails and text messages often come from an account or phone number attempting to resemble a reputable company. They will typically try to entice you to click on a link or open an attachment, which will then infect your computer or mobile device with malware.

Don't click on links or attachments from senders you don’t know or weren’t expecting to hear from. And watch out for errors or poorly designed emails and text messages. If you’re unsure, reach out to the sender to confirm. Otherwise, delete it and report it to the company being faked or “spoofed."

5. Employment

Scams targeting job seekers with fake offers soared during the pandemic. Victims are often told to provide personal information before an interview, such as their social insurance number. Sometimes, they’re asked for money to cover the cost of work supplies or training.

Be skeptical if you receive an unsolicited offer, especially if it is extremely attractive. Other reg flags are postings riddled with grammatical errors, a lack of job details and emails that don’t match the company name (such as a Yahoo or Gmail account).

6. Sweepstake and lottery

In lottery scams, victims receive a call or email saying they’ve won a prize for a draw they never entered. Typically, they will be asked to pay an up-front fee or provide personal information to receive the prize.

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that you always have to play in order to win, and you won’t be asked to pay up-front fees.

7. Grandparent

A grandparent scam, or emergency scam, occurs when someone calls a senior pretending to be a grandchild. They’ll indicate they’re trouble and need cash to solve the issue — and fast.

If this happens to you, take a moment to relax. Without sharing any information, ask the impersonator to provide details that only a loved one would know. Then, call a friend or family member to confirm whether they are actually in distress.

8. Romance

Dating sites and apps are gold mines for thieves. As a relationship begins to progress, victims will be asked for money for an emergency — a medical issue, for instance. These requests may happen with increased frequency, or they may disappear after the funds are sent.

First of all, don’t be blinded by love. Watch out if someone magically sweeps you off your feet or if they move too fast. And never send money to someone you haven’t met in person.

9. Investment

Investment scams attempt to lure people with the prospect of making huge profits, with little or no risk.

Be leery of unsolicited opportunities, especially ones with buzzwords like “guaranteed to do well” or “offers no risk with high return.” Be sure to carefully research the company or person to make sure it's legitimate.

10. CRA

Tax fraud scams are commonplace in Canada. Thieves may reach out by phone, email or text, often using aggressive language to demand immediate payment. Some may go so far as to threaten arrest. Their payment methods of choice are often bitcoin, prepaid credit cards or gift cards.

Be cautious if there’s a sense of urgency or threatening behavior. If you receive a call from someone pressuring you into sharing your confidential information or to offer a refund, don’t respond or click on any links. If you’re unsure, call the CRA to verify. Otherwise: report it right away.

If you find yourself a victim of a scam, please report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

Visit our security page for more information. If you suspect that you have been a victim of fraud where it relates to your account(s), please call our Member Advice Centre or visit your branch right away.