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Government impersonation, phishing are top financial scams, Interac survey finds

TORONTO — Government impersonation is one of the most common financial scams plaguing people across Canada, a new survey from payment processing company Interac Corp. has found.
An Interac survey shows 40 per cent of Canadians are concerned that they could fall victim to a financial scam. Canadian $100 bills are counted in Toronto, Feb. 2, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy

TORONTO — Government impersonation is one of the most common financial scams plaguing people across Canada, a new survey from payment processing company Interac Corp. has found.

The report, released Tuesday, said 42 per cent of survey respondents reported dealing with scammers pretending to be representatives of official government institutions.

That was followed by 41 per cent for phishing scams and 33 per cent with fake banking, credit card and online account scams.

Rachel Jolicoeur, director of cyber market intelligence and financial crimes at Interac, said people have to remember the criminals carrying out scams are professionals acting opportunistically.

"There’s always a call to action and a sense of urgency," she said of how scammers operate.

"As soon as you get that feeling, just stop and pause on that to scrutinize."

Jolicoeur said people need to be cautious when receiving calls from people claiming to be government agents, financial advisers or calling about international parcels.

She also noted that clicking on the wrong link online could take you to phishing websites.

The Interac survey, which collected responses from 1,202 people online between Sept. 28 and Oct. 6, suggests 53 per cent of respondents believe being targeted by financial scams is a common occurrence in Canada. Four in 10 reported they were concerned they could fall victim.

The federal government has issued several warnings to Canadians about the ongoing scams in the past months. 

The Canadian Revenue Agency has a page dedicated to almost a dozen types of frauds such as climate action text scams, credit scams, text scams to access CRA accounts and extortion phone calls demanding payments.

"The CRA will not use aggressive language or demand immediate payment over the phone," the agency said for extortion phone calls.

It also lists examples of fraudulent communications over the phone, letter, email, text and online refund forms.

If someone does fall victim, Jolicoeur said people should not panic. If money is lost, they can contact their financial adviser and credit bureau and consider reporting it to police.

She also suggested reaching out to friends, families and extended networks to spread awareness, adding that criminals could use a variation of scams — trying to access money, banking credentials, personal information and details they can’t get on their own.

"Nothing works better than sharing that story," Jolicoeur said.

Aseel El-Baba, who is the co-founder of Mindfulness and Money, which offers financial literacy programs, said it is also important for people to take a moment and reflect on their experience to understand what went wrong. 

"Forgive yourself," she said. "A lot of times, we get very critical of ourselves and easily get sucked into self-blaming."

El-Baba recalled when her mother fell victim to a scam.

"It was emotionally a hard experience for her for the following weeks," El-Baba recalled. "She was hard on herself for falling for the scam."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2023.

Ritika Dubey, The Canadian Press