Recognize It!

List of Scams

In this section you will find a list and description of common scams.

900 scams

In this type of scam, the victim gets a call from a telemarketer saying they’ve won a big prize. The person doesn’t reveal what the prize is, and to find out the victim must call a 1-900 number (some scammers may also use a 1-976 or 1-809 number). If someone decides to take a chance and call the number, they get a long recorded message or they are put on hold for a long time. Eventually they find out that there was no prize and instead they get a bill from their telephone provider for the call they made (usually a minimum of $35). The ‘telemarketer’ in turn gets a portion of the charges for every incoming call.

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Advanced Fee Letter Fraud (419 / Nigerian Letters)

Also called a 419 fraud, this type of scam involves a letter or email from someone in Nigeria, often a government official of some sort, requesting the recipient’s help in transferring millions of dollars out of Nigeria. The letter starts with a long, sad story about the sender, who promises a big reward for any kind-hearted soul willing to help him out (and maybe some blessings from God as well). All he wants is the person’s bank account information and for them to send him a small amount of money to help with the transfer. He promises to reimburse the person as soon as the money is moved along with their ‘cut’ of the bounty. There is of course, no millions of dollars or reward, just some scammer who got innocent people to send him money and is never heard from again.

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Advance Fee Loan Scams

These scams are based on the advance fee loan service that some loan brokers offer. In this service, the client basically pays these brokers a fixed, non-refundable fee and in return they help him find and arrange financing. The process is somewhat like hiring a consultant and there is still no guarantee of being approved for a loan. The advance fee loan scams borrow this concept, but they attract victims by promising a pre-approved loan. They often do so without even checking your credit rating, which is suspicious. All a person has to do is provide some information and pay an ‘insurance’ or ‘administration’ fee. These fees can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars but they promise the loan will be credited shortly. This may not seem like a bad idea to someone in desperate need of a loan. But what most people don’t realise is that any institution actually granting a loan cannot legally ask for a payment up front. If there are any fees involved, they deduct it from the loan amount directly. And of course, if you do fall for the scam, the loan money never shows up in your bank account, and you now have a few thousands less in your bank account.

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Bomb threat scam

A stranger emails or calls a business and tells an employee that there is a bomb in the building waiting to be activated. He explains that he is taking a big risk by revealing this but that he can get rid of the bomb in exchange for a large sum of money. This type of scam is so far-fetched that it is hard to expect people to fall for it. Most of the time, such scams are directly reported to the authorities and in some cases the scammer was even tracked down, so it is surprising that people still try it.

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Cheque overpayment fraud

These scammers target people who sell goods online by pretending to be potential buyers. They send a payment by cheque, and ‘accidentally’ send more money than what they owe. They then create some excuse for sending a larger amount and ask the seller if they could send the excess amount back to them by wire transfer. When the seller deposits the cheque, most banks advance the amount to them before the cheque is verified, which of course is fake. By the time the bank realises this and charges the seller for the amount, the seller may have already sent the so-called ‘excess amount’ to the scammer. Such scams can also make victims liable for fraud for attempting to cash a counterfeit cheque, even if they were unaware of it.

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Craigslist Phone Verification Scams

The popular website Craigslist introduced a phone verification system recently to prevent fraudulent posts and spamming on their website. To post an ad, you must provide a valid phone number, following which you receive a code by an automated call or text message. You must enter this code on the website for your ad to be posted. There is also a limit on how often you can use a phone number to post an ad, and if any ad was later discovered to be a scam, the phone number could be used to track down the person responsible. Scammers found a way around this by calling legitimate phone numbers at random and pulling a wide range of telemarketing pitches. They may even say that your home phone or bank account is about to be deactivated. In order to reactivate, you must answer an automated call that provides you a code, and then repeat the code to the scammer when he calls back in a while. If you agree to this, the scammer uses your phone number on Craigslist to post fraudulent ads. You receive the verification call with the code, and when you provide it to the scammer, it allows him to post his ad. By using different numbers each time, the scammer can post several ads in this way. Besides, when these ads are found to be fake, any investigation would point to the scammer’s victims as the people responsible.

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Dead Air Calls

These are usually more of a nuisance than a scam. Some people receive repeated calls from an unfamiliar number through an automated dialler but when they answer the phone, they don’t hear anything or they hear a recorded message that doesn’t concern or interest them at all. This could be telemarketers trying to find out when someone is available to answer the phone so that they can make telemarketing calls during those times.

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Emergency Scam

Here the scammers call a victim posing to be a family member or friend in some kind of trouble saying that they need money urgently. They ask the victim not to tell anyone else in the family as it’s too embarrassing or they’re too scared. By the time the victim realises the person wasn’t who he said he was, the scammer has already disappeared with their money. This scam seems to target grandparents most of the time, probably because the older generation is less savvy with technology and may not have video call or caller-ID features on their phones.

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False Charity scam

Some scammers claim to be from a charity and ask for donations. The charity may not exist, or they may have set up a charity with a website to make it more believable but are not involved in any real charity work. Not everyone checks out if a charity is genuine before donating to it, and if the scammers manage to mislead such people with their fake charity, these people might end up giving their money to some con artist.

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Hitman Email Scam

This one is a twist on the bomb threat scam where a person receive an email saying the sender has been hired to assassinate them but he is willing to spare their life if they pay him a large amount of money. Again, most people tend to ignore emails like these, but the occasional scammer still tries his luck at it.

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Identity Theft

Identity theft is a serious fraud that can have disastrous consequences for the victims. Committing illegal activities using another person’s identity or information qualifies as identity theft – whether it involves the person’s credit card information, SIN number, or even their name. Technology and the internet makes it easier to find private information making it even more important for people to protect their privacy. Identity thieves use several excuses, such as the ones mentioned in other scams here, to get information from victims such as their bank account information, credit card information, SIN number, etc.

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Inheritance Scam

Like the Nigerian letter scam, here too a person gets an email from a stranger who apparently has a lot of money to move into their country and desperately needs their help. The sender explains that a wealthy person has died and is looking for someone who can hold his huge inheritance in their bank account for safe keeping. Sometimes the sender may even ask the person to stand in as trustee to the estate. It is definitely suspicious that such a wealthy person has no one to manage his estates that he has to rely on a complete stranger. Moreover, the person promises a large percentage of the inheritance itself, which seems like a lot of money.  But if someone does fall for the scam, they never see any such inheritance. Furthermore, if the person has provided their bank account information to the scammer, they might find that the scammer has emptied out their bank account.

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Job (Mystery Shopper) Scam

This scam targets victims by offering mystery shopper jobs and getting them to cash fake cheques and wiring money to someone overseas as part of their job. The scammers post ads online or in newspapers looking to hire mystery shoppers. When a person answers the ad, they receive a cheque to cover expenses and a salary. They are then asked to cash the cheque and make purchases at certain stores as a mystery shopper, and they get to keep whatever they purchase. At this point, being paid to shop with someone else’s money and then keep all the free stuff sounds like a great job. The ‘employer’ then asks the person to wire part of the money to someone overseas as a training fee or under some other pretence. Eventually the bank charges the person for cashing a fake cheque and he is now liable for all the money spent shopping plus the amount wired to the scammer.

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Lottery Email Scam

This is another twist on the 900 scam or the ‘you’ve won a prize’ scam where the scammer calls people saying that they have won the lottery, usually in some other country. He then asks them to send him a fee in order to send the winnings to the person’s country, or as taxes. If the person falls for it, needless to say, the money never reaches them. What most people don’t realise is that there is no such thing as a ‘foreign lottery’ – you have to be in a country to play the lottery there. And of course, it is not possible to win the lottery without buying a ticket. Also, many countries including Canada do not tax lottery winnings.

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Office Supplies / Directory Scam

These scams target businesses where they pose as a supplier or someone from the head office. The scammer calls and offers to ship supplies such as printers or even new equipment that is supposedly required for the business. He tells the staff that they have to make a payment for the supplies or provide some credit card information. In general, official suppliers who send equipment to a business already have the required details of the business as well as the means to receive payments. There is no need for them to call the business and get these details from an employee. If a member of staff is unaware of this and arranges to make the payments, the business could lose large amounts of money and the supplies, of course, never arrive.

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Phishing

The word phishing is used to describe how some scammers ‘fish’ for personal information such as credit card information, SIN numbers and passwords. They create fake emails and websites that look very much like commonly used and trusted websites (like Facebook, eBay, etc). When users find these emails and websites, they get tricked into providing their credit card details or password when they try to log in. This stolen information can then be used by scammers to commit fraud.

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Phone number spoofing

Phone number spoofing is making a different number appear on the caller ID during a phone call, instead of the caller’s actual number. There are a few legal uses for this, such as when a person does not want to disclose their personal contact number, which is harmless. But some scammers spoof their phone numbers while calling their victims to avoid being traced. Phone number spoofing in order to cause harm to someone is illegal and people would always be careful if they get a call from a ‘strange’ number. Even telemarketing calls from strange numbers should be treated with suspicion as genuine companies would not want to hide their contact information.

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Prize pitch scam

Another variation on the ‘you’ve won a prize’ scam is that the victim receives a call saying that they have won a big prize, but you have to purchase an item from a list to receive the prize. Not only is there no prize to begin with, but the item to be purchased also does not exist and the person ends up sending the scammer money for nothing.

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Puppy scam

This scam is designed to prey on the compassion of animal lovers by offering to sell a puppy that might otherwise be abandoned or put down. The scammer posts fake pictures of a puppy they don’t have and says that he is no longer able to care for the puppy. Eventually someone who cannot stand the thought of the puppy being abandoned agrees to pay whatever it takes to give it a new home. The scammer charges a large fee supposedly towards shipping the puppy to the buyer or towards customs fees, which the buyer pays, but never hears from the scammer (or the puppy) again.

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Pyramid schemes

Pyramid schemes are adapted from multi-level marketing schemes, which is a legal method of marketing your products. In multi-level marketing, the initial person recruits others to sell a product and make a profit from the sales. The recruits can also recruit more people and profit from their sales as well. In a pyramid scheme, the first recruit has to pay a certain amount as investment to join the scheme, and then has to recruit more people who pay their ‘investments’ to the first recruit. Each of these new recruits rope in more people and profit from their contributions and the pyramid keeps growing. However, there is no product or service being sold, and no profits made – just money changing hands – so unlike multi-level marketing, such schemes cannot sustain themselves as a business. Eventually there are no more people who can be recruited into the scheme and the people at the bottom of the ‘pyramid’ have lost their investment for good. Another spin on this scheme, called the Ponzi scheme, involves one person taking ‘investments’ from clients promising very good returns and then using other people’s investments to pay profits to the earlier investors. Both these illegal schemes eventually fall apart and several people can lose their money at a time.

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Recovery pitch scams

These are often scammers who go back to victims who have lost money to them before, and promise to get their money back – for a small fee of course. Some of these scammers may even pose as police officials in order to sound more convincing. People who have lost a lot of money through scams may be tempted to give it a try, without realising that the police do not charge people for recovering what they have lost, and these people end up losing even more money.

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Romance Scam

Here scammers use dating websites and personals ads to find, woo and defraud unsuspecting victims. The anonymity of these websites makes it easy to create a fake profile and hide a person’s real identity. The scammer typically flirts with members on the site and appears gains their confidence by wooing them. When he has gained his victim’s trust, he contacts the victim saying he urgently needs money and does not have anybody to contact for help. In this way he can get several victims to send him money and even commit frauds for him. Victims may lose thousands of dollars before even suspecting him to be a scam artist.

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Service scams

These scams are disguised as companies providing some sort of service such as energy, insurance, and sales. They may try to solicit you into signing up for their services, offering better savings on your electricity or internet bill, for example. It is sometimes hard to distinguish them from genuine companies who indulge in door-to-door or telemarketing. Therefore it is important to thoroughly check out the company before signing up for anything. It is always safer to stay with companies that people you know have used so you can be more confident that they are legitimate.

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Travel

Here the scammer calls his victims offering free or low-cost vacation deals on behalf of a travel agency. He then uses some excuse, that you have to pay tax on the fare, to get you to make a small payment. He may even ask for credit card information to hold your reservation, which some legitimate companies do. However, there is no such vacation, and if you have provided your credit card information, it could be used to commit fraud. It is always best to avoid giving such information over the phone, and use legitimate travel agencies where you can make a reservation in person.

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Vehicle Warranty Package

In this type of scam, victims receive calls, often automated, saying that their vehicle warranty has or is about to expire, and they are asked to call a number to extend their warranty. For people who actually have expired vehicle warranties, this can seem more genuine. When they call the number provided, they are offered a ‘great deal’ that is about to expire, and are pressured into buying into the offer. Some people may even be asked to provide personal information before any of their questions are answered. It is always better to rely on the vehicle’s manufacturer for information on warranty options or to consult a reputable company.

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Work From Home Scam

These scams use websites that claim how several people made thousands working part-time from home, tempting people with fake success stories. They may advertise through ads on third party websites, pop-ups or even post on job bank websites. The pitch usually involves a vague description of how simple and convenient the job is. After signing up, victims find they have to pay a registration or training fee. But once this fee is paid, the ‘employer’ is never heard from again, nor is there any payment for the job itself.

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