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Header Some advice on how to spot and avoid email scams
• Feb. 7, 2024

Is there a prince in a faraway land that needs your help getting millions of dollars out of their country and will share some of this money with you if you help?

Are you a winner of a foreign lottery and all you need to do is pay a fee to claim your monetary prize?

While the scenarios may seem different, the result is the same. You will be scammed out of your money.

Regardless of the scenario, the call-to-action is usually urgent and is combined with a demand for sharing personal information in exchange for the inheritance or prize. Follow-up emails from the fraudster may also include threatening language if the recipient of the email does not immediately take action.

Sometimes the emails look legitimate, by incorporating familiar brand names and email addresses that appear almost official.

Maybe the email looks like it comes from your favourite streaming service, saying that your payment didn't go through and you need to update your personal information. Maybe the email is designed to look like it came from a retailer informing you that you have an unused gift card balance. Or maybe the email is attempting to trick you into thinking it came from a package delivery service, and if you don't enter your personal information, they can't deliver it.

The problem with all these scenarios is that they are real-life examples of email scams and attempts at fraud.

Many email scams use a form of phishing, which is a tactic used by fraudsters to trick you into sharing your personal or financial information such as credit card or bank account numbers, passwords or your Social Insurance Number (SIN).

According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), almost 283 million dollars was lost to fraud in the first half of 2023. The CAFC says everyone is a target—from the elderly to busy professionals and even tech-savvy millennials— and if you receive an email (or even a text message or phone call) that sounds too good to be true, it likely is.

For instance, if you're being asked for unusual information, such as personal details or bank account numbers, or to send money to people you don't know, it's usually a sign that something is amiss. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to help protect yourself from email scams and fraud.

Get familiar with common red flags

When it comes to email scams, there are some common red flags to look out for that indicate an email may be suspicious. This may include:

  • An email address that is from a sender unknown to you.
  • The greeting is generic or overly formal instead of personally addressed to you.
  • The email has spelling or grammar errors, and/or uses awkward, outdated, or unusual phrasing or language.
  • The email includes a link, which look like it's safe but actually links off to a malicious website. This may include a URL that is shortened, making it more difficult to determine if the site is legitimate, or hyperlinked text to hide the malicious link. Do not click suspicious links. And, use extreme caution when receiving messages with links or attachments, especially unsolicited messages. Do not download attachments from unsolicited messages.
  • The email asks for sensitive personal information, such as your passwords, bank account, credit card and/or social security numbers.

Other red flags include an email that contains different font styles and font sizes, off-brand logos – or a logo that looks slightly off from the official version – and a subject line or overall messaging that appeals to urgency, fear, or desire, or offers something that is “too good to be true.”

Use caution when clicking links in an email

Phishing often works like this: a scammer sends you an email, text, or voice message that appears to be from a legitimate company – for example, claiming that your online order is delayed, or that your bank has frozen your account – and tells you that you need to click a link in the email and then enter your personal information to "unlock" your account or access information about your delayed order.

Providing personal information through phishing can lead to identity theft, which can result in a fraudster gaining full access to your personal and financial information.

Avoid clicking on any email that is threatening to close your account or the immediate loss of an important service. If you receive an unsolicited email from a service provider that you normally deal with, it's always best for you to call that service provider directly and confirm whether the request is valid. Remember to look up the phone number or email of the service provider on its official website; do not trust a phone number or email address sent to you in an unsolicited email.

The reality is that when you get an unsolicited email (or text message and phone call) that makes a promise of something as a reward in exchange for your personal information, chances are good that it's a scam.

Be skeptical of requests asking for personal information or money

Email scams will often try and make false claims to get you to send money to fraudulent accounts. If you get an email from a relative asking for funds because they're in trouble overseas, and saying they need you to send them the money via e-transfer or gift card, this should also be a red flag. Chances are, if someone close to you was in trouble, you would have heard from them or someone you trust, such as a parent or partner. Always verify the information before taking any action .

And that tax collector threatening to have you arrested? Probably not the case, as the Canada Revenue Agency—whether through phone, email or text—will never use threatening or coercive language, threaten arrest or involve authorities. The key is not to act based on your emotions. Instead, your first action should be to determine if the email is legitimate and not proceed until this has been verified.

If you happen to unexpectedly receive a cheque, chances are strong that it is fraudulent. It's always important to know who you're doing business with. Don't proceed to cash the cheque unless you first determine that it is legitimate.

Beware of the "-ing"

While email scams are one way for fraudsters to contact you in hope of obtaining your personal and financial information, it's important to be aware of some of the other common ways to scams as well.

Whether it's "smishing" (soliciting sensitive financial or personal information via text messages), "spoofing" (delivering malware to your computer), "vishing" (using phone calls to solicit information through conversation), "quishing" (using fake QR codes to steal personal information or money), or even cheque fraud that can trick you into wiring or sending money after you receive a cheque – it's always important to be vigilant. In each of these scenarios, exercising caution before providing information or acting on a request is vital.

Talk with family and friends

The elderly and lonely people are often the most targeted in scams.

Help protect your family members by educating them on the most common scams, such as fraudsters using legitimate dating websites to target individuals looking for a relationship in order to extort money from them, or emergency scams that target caring grandparents into sending money to their grandchild in a foreign country.

Learn more and help others

Learn more about protecting yourself and others by visiting the Government of Canada website . You can also report fraud and scams to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) online or by calling 1-888-495-8501.

Fraudsters don’t discriminate, and nobody is immune to being targeted by a fraudster. Stay informed about frauds and scams. By following the tips set out above, you can help reduce the chances of becoming a victim of fraud.

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