March is Fraud Prevention Month – an annual campaign aimed at helping Canadians recognize, reject, and report fraudulent scams.
This year has been especially challenging when it comes to fraud prevention. Cyber criminals are taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to target victims who are staying at or working from home.
Protecting yourself and your loved ones against fraudulent threats is more important than ever before. Here are some steps that you can take to stay safe from fraud.
How to stay safe online during COVID-19
The pandemic has led many Canadians to spend more time online. Whether you’ve been working remotely or spending more time at home in general, connecting to the internet has become a necessity for staying connected and entertained.
Unfortunately, cyber criminals know this and are taking advantage of our additional screen time. They’ve even launched scams specific to COVID-19. These scams involve cyber criminals pretending to be the government, asking for “owed” money or tricking victims into giving sensitive information to “release” relief funds. Other scams have been more subtle, like impersonating streaming service providers and asking for money or account information – proving that these fraudsters know how to exploit our at-home pandemic habits.
How to avoid phishing scams and fraud
Phishing messages are fraudulent messages cyber criminals use to trick you into providing your personal information so they can steal from you. They often pose as seemingly legitimate companies or individuals. Messages that seem to be coming from “official” sources like the police or government are much scarier, and are more likely to make victims share information that they wouldn’t normally. Phishing scams are the most common tactic that cyber criminals use to commit fraud, because they can target multiple victims at the same time.
Phishing messages aren’t always easy to spot because they’re made to look legitimate. We know it can be hard to spot. However, sometimes cyber criminals make common mistakes that give them away. This includes typos, pixelated images or logos and suspicious email addresses that are either misspelled or don’t match with who or what they’re impersonating.
Some phishing scams use fear or intimidation to trick victims, so they feel forced to react quickly. They may threaten to close your accounts or take legal action against you if you don’t do a specific action, like clicking a link or downloading an attachment. Other phishing scams may offer you a reward, like money or a free vacation, in exchange for your private information.
The most important thing to do is to be cautious with suspicious messages and avoid acting quickly. You should never click or download any links that seem strange from unknown senders. If you’re ever unsure about the legitimacy of a message, you can always follow up with the company through their official phone number or website to make sure the claims are real. If you believe that the message is fraudulent, contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre to report it.
Other ways to protect yourself
Following cyber security best practices is important to keep yourself safe from fraudulent scams and viruses. There are many steps that you can take to stay secure, such as:
- Using strong passwords and passphrases: Your passwords and passphrases are often your first line of defense when it comes to cyber security. Using strong and unique passphrases or passwords for all of your accounts enhances your security. You can even use a password manager to help you remember them all.
- Regularly updating your devices: Software updates aren’t just for new features. They also contain important bug fixes and security patches to help your device run smoother while adding extra security to protect you.
- Enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA): MFA can be used on most accounts and devices to add an extra layer of security to confirm your identity when you’re logging in. This feature can be extremely useful if your information gets lost or stolen, so you have additional control if someone tries to log in with your credentials.
Learning how to stay safe during Fraud Prevention Month is more important than ever with new and targeted phishing scams appearing all the time. It’s up to you to recognize, reject and report suspicious behaviour that you encounter online.
If you suspect that you, or someone you know has fallen victim to a cyber scam, don’t hesitate to contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre to report it.