Fraudsters are impersonating Canada Revenue Agency officers to target Lower Mainland residents with a new phone scam that keys on income tax season.
It's not on the list of top 10 scams for 2014 announced Friday by the Better Business Bureau because reports have just begun to surface about the unlikely sounding fraud.
Scammers who claim to be federal revenue agents accuse victims of owing back taxes and warn a warrant for their arrest will be issued if they don't pay up pronto.
"They're quite threatening and they're quite aggressive," Vancouver Police Det.-Const. Linda Grange said.
Victims are persuaded to buy gift cards in amounts of up to $2,500 from major retailers and phone back with the activation codes. In two recent cases, the cards were for Home Depot and Safeway. Other victims sent money orders.
"They're very convincing," Grange said. "You panic and you think there's a warrant and all of a sudden you're running off to the store to get a gift card."
The scam may become "quite prevalent" as the deadline to file income tax returns nears, she said.
Grange said the VPD also continues to field large numbers of complaints about fraudulent ticket selling through online sites.
"If you're going to buy a ticket on Craigslist or Kijiji or any other website there's a huge, huge chance it's fraud," she said, estimating over half of tickets advertised on the two big free classifieds sites are bogus.
"You're not going to get to the concert or event. You're going to lose your money. It's rampant."
Some sellers purport to have a receipt for the tickets, giving an impression of legitimacy, but the receipt is usually a fake as well.
Grange said some perpetrators caught recently by investigators turned out to be young kids who were even more convincing because they talked about having to get home to do homework.
"They make you trust them, but you can't trust them because they're taking up to $1,000, putting it in their pocket and they walk off."
She recommends using only authorized sellers.
Better Business Bureau of Mainland B.C. president and CEO Danielle Primrose said one of the top 10 scams highlighted for this year targets Instagram users.
Scammers post images on the photo-sharing app of tempting prize giveaways, purportedly from big brands and retailers.
But the images link to other websites that try to get credit card information and Instagram users end up helping the scam by widely sharing in order to qualify for the fake contest.
Primrose said spammers are also increasingly using fake or real gossip about celebrities like Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus to get social media users to spread bogus content, which sometimes takes victims to sites that install malware on their computers.
Other scams on this year's top 10 list include romance scams by phoney beaus on online dating websites, as well long-running problems like curbers – unlicensed car dealers selling lemons from parking lots – or lottery mail scams.
Many people also continue to fall for "enterprise fee scams" where they're persuaded they must make an upfront fee payment to unlock a larger sum of money.
"Do you really need to pay money to win money? Absolutely not," cautioned Manjit Bains of Consumer Protection B.C.
See below for the BBB's full list of 2014 top scams or see the list and additional information at mbc.bbb.org/top-ten-scams. For avoiding investment or tax scams, see the B.C. Security Commission's investright.org site or the CRA's security tips at www.cra.gc.ca/security.
Top 10 Scams for 2014
TOP ADVERTISING SCAM: Astroturfing – This is a term for posting fake online reviews on websites such as Google or Yelp. It is a form of false advertising that can help to boost a company’s public profile online through what is supposed to be an unbiased consumer review websites.
How to spot the scam: Read through all the reviews to get a general sense of what others are saying about the company. Use other review websites and BBB.org to get a second opinion. Look out for bad grammar and spelling which could also show it is a fake review.
TOP LOVE SCAM: Catphishing – A romance scam in which a fraudster pretends to be someone they are not on an online dating or social media website, for the purpose of taking money or personal information from their targets.
How to spot the scam: The person asks to talk or chat on an outside email or messaging service so their encounter with you cannot be tracked on the dating site. The person claims to be from this country but is currently traveling, living or working abroad. The person will ultimately asks you to wire money or credit card information due to an emergency like a sick relative or stolen wallet. You can spot a catphisher if the person’s photo is a stock image on Google.
TOP ONLINE SCAM: Enterprise Fee Scheme – The most famous version is the “Nigerian Letter.” It’s an unsolicited request for modest financial assistance in exchange for a great deal of money. Another version targets investors who have lost money on an investment, offering to purchase or exchange shares and help the investor minimize their losses. Whatever the pitch, the central feature of the enterprise fee scam is to ask for an up front payment to cover transaction costs, whether to “unlock” a larger sum of money or facilitate a transfer of shares. Either way, the fraudster keeps the fee,but doesn't deliver what was promised. The investor loses.
How to spot the scam: Scammers are moving away from email and taking to social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. Watch out for overly promotional language about the “next big thing”or something “going to the top of the charts”. Don’t respond to direct messages about investments or stocks that come to you via social networks or text message. Resist the temptation to repost, retweet, or redistribute information about a stock that’s being heavily promoted on social networks or the internet.Remove companies or people from your social networks who aggressively promote investments. Use the Report Fraud button at InvestRight.org to report investment promotions you know or suspect to be illegal.
TOP FINANCIAL SCAM: Affinity Fraud – It happens where you’d least expect it. Right in your own community, with people you know and trust like religious institutions, colleagues or other association connections and even friends and, sometimes, family. The fraudsters’ business is lying to people to gain their trust and steal their money. They look for opportunity among people who expect the best of each other because of common language, faith,interests, neighbourhood, or other bond of trust. They may even pay the influencer to help them out, never telling the person that the investment is really a scam.
How to spot the scam: Promises of high returns with little or no risk (there are no exceptions to the rule that higher returns mean higher risk). Someone (often someone new) in your group starts talking about how to build wealth through special investments only they know about. The person is ‘just like you’—whether through ethnicity, religion, occupation,interests, or other common bond—and uses that connection to foster your trust.Sometimes signs of conspicuous wealth can tip you off. And, any suggestion that you should keep the investment a secret is a sure give-away.
TOP SALES SCAM: Curbers – These unlicensed dealers, get junk cars and then sell them from parking lots. They advertise through local newspapers and online ads. Curbers do not disclose the vehicle’s history to the buyer, often hiding a lien, accident damage or rolled back odometers. Sometimes, the car turns out to be stolen.
How to spot the scam: They have the same phone number listed for many cars and ask, "Which car?" when you call. Curbers will say that they are selling the vehicle for a friend and will come up with a sad story. They will also rush you into buying and will request that you meet them at a parking lot. Cash is typically requested as payment. They may also want you to lie on the transfer form. Be sure to see if the name or location on the vehicle documents match the curber's ID. Remember, if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Consumers can report a curber and find a licensed dealer at www.vehiclesalesauthority.com.
TOP MAIL SCAM: Lottery Scams – In this digital age,lottery scams that come through the mail may seem like a thing of the past but Consumer Protection BC continues to get calls about this scam that often targets seniors.
The typical scenario involves an individual who receives a letter in the mail saying they have won $2.5 million. The person is instructed to send back $30 as a ‘processing fee’ and include personal details,such as a telephone number and birth date. Once that letter is sent, not only is the consumer out of pocket for the money, they are also added to a ‘suckerlist’ and are likely to receive more and more offers like this one in the mail.
How to spot the scam: Never pay up-front for any prize.A legitimate prize offering will never require you to pay anything. Be suspicious of free gifts. Always remember, if it sounds too good to be true –it probably is. Consumer Protection BC urges British Columbians to sit down with family members who might be vulnerable and explain how these types of scams work. Report these types of scams to Canada’s Anti-Fraud Centre Toll Freeat: 1-888-495-8501.
TOP TELEMARKETING SCAM: The Unknown Caller – You may receive a call that your computer security has been compromised and that they can help you, or that your grandchild is in jail and in need of money. In either case, it is a cold call that has come out of the blue and is asking you to take action quickly and send money now.
How to spot the scam: Any cold call you receive should ask for the caller’s name, and other verifying details including a phone contact for a callback and end the call. If it is someone who claims to be a family member, check with other relatives. If it is a service-related company,search for the company’s contacts on the website and look out for any scam warnings posted online. You can also check with the Better Business Bureau at www.mbc.bbb.org. Never give out your credit card information or wire money to a stranger.
TOP YOUTH SCAM: The Insta-scam – A social media mobile app like Instagram targets a lot its young users because its followers are readily willing to “like” or share a picture. Through a mobile app like Instagram, a scammer can post pictures of prize giveaways that look to be linked to big brands and retailers, but in reality may redirect you to online quizzes or other websites trying to get your credit card information. Users of the social media app may share or “like” a promo in order to fulfill the contest rules, but in reality they are just giving help to spammers and will never get a prize.
How to spot the scam: If the profile name mentions"giveaway" or “free" in its name, it is likely a scam. If all this poster ever posts is pictures for free stuff, it is likely a spam account.If the picture redirects you to a form do not share personal information, like an email address, or a password. Be wary of any new apps that promise free“likes” or followers to build your network.
TOP BUSINESS SCAM: Pretender Scam - A business receives an invoice which appears to be from an “authorized” service provider for things like online advertising, web hosting, website domain registration or trademark copywriting services. In all cases, the service is misrepresented and the business is often threatened that they will be put into a collections’ service if they do not pay the invoice.
How to spot the scam: Be wary of final notice invoices that create a false sense of urgency. If you have not heard of the supplier, it may be just a fraudulent invoice. Look out for fine print that states that this document is only a form of advertising and not an invoice -- a common tactic of fraudsters. The scam generally becomes easier to spot once the business owner creates their own list of authorized vendors and suppliers and ensure that there are strict controls on purchasing and accounting.
SCAM OF THE YEAR: Celebrity Gossip Spam - Some of Hollywood’s top names like Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Aniston, and the Kardashians regularly make top headlines, which makes them ideal fodder for scammers to put out bogus content on social media networks. Spam is always looking to capitalize on a consumer’s need for new, sensational, or fascinating information and professional spammers post content that mentions celebrities in compromising situations in order to get clicks. Clicking through a spam video or picture can often redirect you to an online survey that puts advertising commission in a spammer's wallet despite the content being non-existent or a fake. In some cases, a person may end up installing malware on their computer after clicking through the video content.
How to spot the scam: If the video or content posted on your social media website seems to be about something scandalous that involves a celebrity, do not click through. It is likely a fake. Consider checking out the information from a trusted news source first. Don’t believe a celebrity is dead, just because Twitter says so. The headlines are attention grabbing for a reason, and users should not help spammers to do their dirty work by sharing the links on their social media accounts.