‘Tis the season of scamming, experts say

The holiday season is the season of taking for scammers, according to experts.

“This is the holiday season and hackers and fraudsters are hard at work trying to scam individuals to essentially click on stuff and get your hard-earned money,said cybersecurity analyst Ritesh Kotak.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre said almost 48,000 victims of fraud have lost around $421 million this year as of the end of October, which is more than the nearly $384 million lost in all of 2021.

And here in Manitoba, RCMP said the number of cases reported to police has nearly tripled from 2017 to 2021. 

Manitobans are being cheated through social media, calls, texts and emails this holiday season, with everything from romance scams, spoofing attacks, account hacks and crypto-related scams.

For 90-year-old Winnipegger Peggy Pendergast, scams are nothing new. She said she gets about two or three scam calls a day, but in one case, her account was hacked and one of her contacts lost $200 thinking she was giving her an Amazon gift card.

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All of the emails came as if they came from me,” Pendergast said.

“I felt that it was my fault. I’ve done something wrong and my concern is I’ve lost a friendship.”

The number of fraud cases could be higher than what has been recorded as not all victims come forward. They are either embarrassed or it was a small amount lost, according to Sgt. Paul Manaigre of Manitoba RCMP.

“People don’t ever want to admit that they’re ashamed, that they feel stupid, that that they are a victim,” said Pendergast.

Nobody wants that label, but that’s the reality of it.”

Read more: Winnipeg police warning public of elaborate phone scam

Kotak advised people to refrain from clicking on a link that was sent to them, as well as to never give out any personal information.

“Think before you click. Verify the sender. There’s nothing wrong with going online, finding the legitimate number of that delivery company or that particular store, and giving them a call to verify that that is the individual who called,” he said.

Fraudsters are difficult to hold accountable and even harder to track thanks to sophisticated techniques such as VPNs and proxy servers that can hide the scammer’s location, as well as jurisdictional issues for law enforcement.

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“They’re not just targeting Canadians — this is a worldwide problem. And a lot of times, these suspects are out of the country,” said Manaigre, “which then basically limits exactly what we can do or any of the possible recoveries of money.”

Pendergast hopes people can open up a conversation to help fight the stigma of being scammed so victims won’t feel embarrassed to report it.

“They’re so professional, they’re so clever. I mean, you cannot underestimate what’s going on,” she said.

“They were able to get into my email, I was surprised at what I must’ve done for them to get my information to be able to go ahead into it.”

Kotak agrees that scammers are getting more creative and in some cases less obvious, which means anyone could fall victim.

“There’s also a more sophisticated technique called spoofing, where you can call with particular phone numbers. So it might look like you’re getting a call from a number that you might even recognize,” said Kotak.

The best way around this is just to hang up, call that number back, and ensure that that is the number of your loved one or a particular organization.”

RCMP urges anyone who does fall victim to these scams to report it to police and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

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— With files from Global’s Rosanna Hempel

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