Throughout March, there have been various activities aimed at educating the public on economic crimes as part of Fraud Prevention Month. The goal is to reduce the over $10 million that Canadians lost to identity thieves in 2015, based on data from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. The figure is even higher when you take into account the more than $55 million lost through mass marketing rip-offs.
It’s clear that today’s criminal masterminds have changed with the times. In an information age, fraudsters operate under digital cover to break into e-vaults and e-wallets, carrying out their schemes from a distance, unlike the mobsters and pickpockets of old. However, you don’t have to fall prey to cyber thieves. Here are some tips to help keep cyber fraudsters at bay.
Practice online banking safety
Financial institutions make significant investments in safe online banking, but users can also take important steps to prevent criminals from accessing their accounts. For example, don’t write down or share your Personal Access Code (PAC), security questions/answers, and avoid obvious combinations involving birthdates, addresses, or phone numbers. Change your PAC every three to four months and disable the autocomplete and password storage feature on your computer/device, in case it falls into the wrong hands. Other safety measures include installing up-to-date computer protections, cleaning your computer’s cache after you log out, and avoiding public computers.
Ensure online shopping security
Canadians shop online to the tune of over $100 billion annually so it’s no surprise that fraudsters want a piece of that pie. Fraudulent online “sellers” may take your money without sending you the promised goods, or deliver sub-standard products. Worst still, they might steal your financial information and make purchases in your name. You can protect yourself by making purchases only from established retailers you know and trust. Because fraudsters can set up spoof websites that look very much like well-known retailers, familiarize yourself with the right website address of the retailer and avoid visiting their site through a link. If you must purchase online from an unfamiliar company or person, research their sale history and reputation. If you have no information or if you read unsatisfactory reports, be warned.
Don’t bite the phishing bait!
Phishing remains a favourite in the online fraudster’s bag of tricks and has unfortunately caused thousands of Canadians to be swindled of their hard-earned money. Phishing usually involves fraudulent emails or texts claiming to come from your financial institution. The messages may include your financial institution’s logo and come from an email address that mirrors the domain name of your credit union or bank. Phishing messages ask the recipient to click on a link to verify security information. If you receive a text or email of this nature, do not click on the link and delete the message immediately. Never provide your account number, PAC, security questions/answers, social insurance number, or other sensitive financial information as your financial institution will never ask for personal banking information through these channels. Any information you disclose may be used to commit fraud.
Subscribe to alerts
If your financial institution provides this feature, subscribe to email or text alerts. You will be immediately notified of login, new bill payees added, funds withdrawal and/or transfer activity within your account. That way you will be aware of anything suspicious very quickly.
Fraud Prevention Month is a good time to remind ourselves that today’s financial criminals may not look or operate like Butch Cassidy, but the virtual threats they pose are very real. If you have any questions or concerns about fraud, talk to your financial institution. Let’s work together to keep cyber crooks out.
Kathy McGarrigle is Chief Operating Officer for Coast Capital Savings (www.coastcapitalsavings.com), Canada’s second largest credit union by membership.