Members of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Anti-Rackets Branch, Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), and Ontario's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) are warning Ontario residents to check their emails, phone messages and computer pop-ups. All are tools that criminals can use to extort money and personal information from you.
Phishing, ransom, and service scams have the same basic goal. Typically, individuals make contact with you through your computer or via text message to tell you that you have 'won a prize' or that you owe a sum of money. Some fraudsters will tell you that they can provide telecommunications, internet, financial, medical, and energy services for special or preferred rates.
Although 95 per cent of the crimes go unreported, phishing, ransom, and service scams cost victims approximately $15 million across Canada; approximately $7 million in Ontario. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre approximately 6,000 people fell victim to these scams in 2018.
Investigators find two commonly used scams. In one version, the victim receives an email or someone calls pretending to represent a well-known computer-based company, and claims that the victim's computer is sending out viruses or has been hacked. The scammer will request to gain remote access to the computer and may run some programs or change some settings. The scammer will then advise that a fee is required for the service and request credit card information. In some cases, the scammer will send a transfer from the victim's computer through a money service. The end result is that the victim pays for a service that was never needed as the computer was never infected.
The SFO indicates a more surreptitious, large-scale phishing and ransom scam is in circulation. Malware-infected emails were opened by employees of a large retail store that unintentionally launched a phishing attack, allowing hackers to steal the vendor's credentials. Once the vendor information was successfully obtained, the company's customer database was exploited, exposing millions of clients, including customer's names, mailing addresses, and other personal information. The data breach revealed millions of customers' credit and debit card information. In the end, the company estimated that the data breach caused a multi-million dollar loss.
Tips to Prevent Phishing, Ransom, and Service Scams
If you were using your computer when you got scammed, it is possible that a virus or other malicious software is still on your computer. Run a full anti-virus check using reliable security software. If you do not have security software (such as virus scanners and a firewall) installed on your computer, a reputable computer professional can help you find what you need.
Scammers may have also gained access to your online passwords. Change these using a secure computer.
If you paid someone by credit card or through an electronic funds transfer (e-transfer), contact your financial institution or credit card company immediately. They may be able to reverse or stop the transaction.
If you or someone you know suspect they've been a victim of a phishing, ransom, or service scam, contact your local police service and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre by phone at 1-888-495-8501 or through their website.