While March is Fraud Prevention Month, Brandon police are reminding Brandonites that fraudsters work every day of the year — and being aware of the scams helps protect people from falling victim.
As of Feb. 29, 7,804 Canadians have reported frauds, and 4,119 Canadians have fallen victim to fraud, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
In 2019, 19,285 people across Canada were victims of fraud, losing $98 million to various schemes.
“All frauds are preventable if you know the signs,” said Brandon Police Service spokeswoman Kirby Sararas. “If you are aware of these trends that are out there, you can stop this from happening to yourself and you won’t be the victim.”
Locally, a common phone scam that’s been going around is fraudsters pretending to be government or police agencies asking for money to avoid prosecution or arrest, Sararas said.
There’s different messaging that can be used in order to get people to go further into the conversation, Sararas said, and the fraudster asks for some sort of payment to avoid a warrant or further legal consequences.
Some of these callers can even clone the phone number of a legitimate government agency — such as Brandon Police Service — to show up on call display.
“No government agency is going to request payment in order to mitigate prosecution or a warrant for your arrest … that’s not how we do business,” Sararas said. “If someone is demanding payment and if you don’t pay you’ll be arrested, that’s a red flag.”
If a caller is asking you to send money in the form of a gift card or bitcoin, that is also a huge red flag, Sararas said.
“These things are very hard for authorities to trace, and it’s near impossible for authorities to get complainants money back or to be able to prosecute because often the fraudsters are not in our jurisdiction, or even in Canada,” Sararas said.
Another phone scam that has been resurfacing recently is the grandparent scam, where fraudsters pose as a child or a grandchild in need of help, she said.
Once the caller gets someone on the line thinking they’re speaking with their relative, the call is transferred to a supposed lawyer who tells the victim that their loved one is in serious financial trouble and needs help.
“A lot of people don’t realize that it’s not actually their family member who is making this request until they’ve already sent thousands of dollars,” Sararas said. “We have not noticed this (scam) here lately, but I have heard it’s cropping up in other areas.”
If you get a robocall, the best thing to do is to just hang up, Sararas said.
“Far too often, Canadians are too polite and I think a lot of these fraudsters are trained to keep us on the line by baiting us … knowing in our nature we’re going to be polite and stay on the line,” Sararas said. “Don’t even continue, just hang up.”
An ongoing scam that often targets people online is catfishing, Sararas said, where fraudsters pretend to be someone else online to lure someone into a relationship and, eventually, coax money from them.
Catfishing scams prey on the young and the old — anyone who is vulnerable, lonely and looking for someone in their life, Sararas said.
“It does happen here, but unfortunately people who do fall victim are either so involved with the person who is scamming them, is so brainwashed that they don’t accept, aren’t aware or don’t acknowledge that they are the victim of a fraud,” Sararas said. “If they do come to terms with the fact they’re being scammed, it’s really embarrassing for them to come forward.”
Because of this, Sararas said catfishing scams are under-reported.
“It is important for family members and loved ones to recognize those signs and have a conversation with that individual if you see the signs,” Sararas said.
Scammers even lurk on local buy-and-sell pages, Sararas said, such as Facebook Marketplace, Kijiji and eBrandon.
“If someone gets an offer from someone wanting to purchase whatever they’re selling, and the person says they’re going to send a moving company to pick up the item, or they send a cheque worth way more than the asking price and ask (the seller) to mail the difference back to them … that’s a scam,” Sararas said.
Buyers and sellers are encouraged to meet in a neutral place, Sararas said, such as the safe exchange zone in the parking lot of the Brandon police station.
“People are more than welcome to buy and sell in our parking lot where it is monitored and they can feel safe and secure,” Sararas said. “I also recommend only accepting cash. We still see a lot of cheque frauds and people trying to pass third-party cheques, altered cheques or stolen cheques.”
If you receive a fraudulent call or other type of scam, you can report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre by calling 1-888-495-8501 or through the website at www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca.
If you are the victim of a scam and have sent money to an individual, or believe you’ve come across a new fraud police might not yet be aware of, contact BPS at 204-729-2345.
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