Are you a fraud target?

Snake oil now comes in a rainbow of flavours, thanks to an ever-growing digital age. Today, if fraudsters can’t get you on the phone, they’ll find you online or show up at your door when you’re at your most vulnerable.

We’re awash in fakes — or are we? Trouble is, sometimes we’re really not sure. Frauds are constantly changing. As soon as you’ve cottoned onto the latest scam, there’s the email bomb or the crypto-terrorist to battle.

Here’s how to strengthen your immunity against common strains of consumer fraud:

Are you a fraud target?

According to a national survey by CPA Canada, a third of Canadians have directly experienced fraud, ranging from stolen identities to hacking. There’s a scam for every demographic and personality type. Nevertheless, there are some attributes that are more likely to attract fraudsters.

Social isolation: People who live alone or who are lonely are more likely to be a victim of fraud. This may be because they are willing to communicate with potential fraudsters in order to experience a social connection. Also, they may not have anyone to confide in or with whom they can discuss financial or personal matters.

Cognitive ability: Older individuals may have lower cognitive ability and this could make it more difficult for them to understand contracts or investment offers. One study found that financial acumen peaks at 53. Weaker cognition combined with diminished acuity in hearing or seeing could make it more difficult to process information or lead to impulsive decision-making. While we think of older persons as being more vulnerable to fraud, perhaps due to being more trusting as well as having poor technology skills, the counter argument is they also have more life experience and wisdom making them better judges of character. At any age, being less mentally sharp and not paying close attention, increase the likelihood of falling for a scam.

Being a man: Older males who are active traders are more likely to fall for certain types of scams, especially of the get-rich-quick variety. This group is a target because they are usually more affluent than women. They are also more susceptible to remote pitches of gaining large amounts of wealth with no risk, by people they don’t know, by phone, online or fax. Victims often exhibit status-seeking behaviour and feel they deserve to have wealth. In a survey, only 37 per cent of victims admitted they were defrauded because of the shame attached to falling for a get-rich-quick-scheme.

Life stages: Those who experience a life inflection point, such as moving to a new country, starting school, starting a new job, retirement, divorce or death of a loved one, are more likely to be targeted by fraudsters. These life events usually require financial account changes and other administrative tasks that could trigger a scammer. Also, we’re more emotionally vulnerable during major life events and may also not have the mental and emotional bandwidth to make the most prudent decisions.

Emergencies: Certain types of fraudsters strike when you are at your most vulnerable. Lost your housekeys? Basement flooded? Leaky roof? When these emergencies occur, we need help immediately. Searching Google is one of the riskiest things you could do because Google Maps is full of ads for fake businesses. The prevalent scams involve service categories known as “duress verticals” such as contractors, towing and car repair, lawyers, locksmiths, etc. Scammers digitally “scrape” the addresses of legitimate businesses and buy phone numbers to attach to them. Not only does this widespread practice harm real businesses but it brings unqualified and potentially dangerous fraudsters straight to your door.

Keep fraudsters away

Here’s how:

  • Shred personal documents before disposing of them.
  • Resist the urge to take online quizzes, especially if they ask for personal information.
  • Sign up for text alerts for any bank or credit card transactions.
  • Know your credit score and check it annually.
  • Use a VPN (virtual private network) when using public WiFi.
  • Buy identity theft insurance.
  • Do not answer calls or texts from unknown persons.
  • Strengthen your passwords and keep them safe.
  • Use caution when social media shopping.

Rita Silvan, CIM™️, is personal finance and investment writer and editor. She is the former editor-in-chief of ELLE Canada magazine and is an award-winning journalist and tv media personality. Rita is the editor-in-chief of Golden Girl Finance, an online magazine focusing on women’s financial success. When not writing about all things financial, Rita explores Toronto’s parks with her standard poodle.

Rita Silvan is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.

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