photo: Aotawa/iStock

Ask the Expert: Online Fraud

By Bonnie Staring

With more than two decades of experience in community-based safety and criminal intelligence, Detective Herczeg of the Edmonton Police Service (Economic Crimes section) investigates fraud cases and strives to increase fraud prevention for individuals and businesses. Here, she answers some of our questions about the growing problem of online fraud.

What is online fraud?
It starts with an introduction on the internet—through social media, email, via online classified ads, or any type of publicly accessible forum. Online fraud includes identity theft—where a living person’s identity is stolen for financial gain—and identity fraud, which is creating an entirely fictitious identity for personal or financial gain.

How big is the problem?
It’s increasing exponentially. As criminals fine-tune their skills, the number of online fraud cases is going up. In the Edmonton area in 2016, identity theft increased 71 percent, and identity fraud grew by 48 percent. Those are just the cases we know about. Many victims are often too embarrassed to come forward.

What’s the most common type of fraud?
Phishing scams: Emails that look like they’re from a reputable company, and ask you to click on a link—to update your banking info or renew your Netflix subscription, for example. Don’t do it! Even businesses are being targeted with fake invoices. If you deal with the company that emailed you, contact them directly—not by replying—to see if they really do need information from you.

Three common phishing scams and how to spot them

What other online scams should we be aware of?
Romance scams. They’re not age- or gender-specific, and they start through online dating sites. Victims connect with “John Smith” online, meet someone who claims to be John Smith for coffee, and build what they feel is a trusting relationship. But once the scam artist has their banking information or money, John Smith disappears.

There’s also a Canada Revenue Agency scam, where you receive an email from someone claiming to be from CRA. It demands payment for outstanding taxes or bank accounts will be frozen or an arrest will be made. To apply more pressure, the fraudsters then contact victims by phone, saying they’re calling from CRA or the police. One woman who fell prey to this scam lost $37,000.

Why are these scammers so successful nowadays?
They catch us when our guard is down. People want to make sure their bank account is okay. Single people want a chance at love. Most of us want to fix any error we may have made on our taxes.

Anatomy of a secure password

How can I protect myself?
Verify the information you’re given. Don’t assume the person on the phone is who they say they are. Right now, I’m investigating a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme. I’ve spoken to more than 300 people and some of them didn’t believe who I was as their call display doesn’t read “police.” I wasn’t offended; they were being smart.

FRAUD 4-1-1
How to safely secure your personal and financial details

• Follow best practices for web browsing. For example, set up strong passwords and be vigilant when shopping online.

• Guard against offline fraud too. AMA members can securely destroy no-longer-needed personal documents at free shredding events every weekend in April and May.

• Suspect you’ve been victimized? Report it the police. Then call your bank and credit card company—plus Canada’s two credit-reporting agencies to place fraud alerts on your files.