When it comes to fraud in Canada, there are experts on both sides of the law — those who fight it and those who constantly adapt to protect their criminal enterprise.
Fraudsters are like professional sales people. They'll work with you until they close the deal to get your money," says RCMP Sgt. Guy Paul Larocque, acting officer in charge of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre in North Bay, Ont.
In 2019, more than $98 million was lost in Canada to mass-marketing fraud.
The centre employs 27 people who collect complaints and details from Canadians and businesses, both big and small, to stop fraudsters.
They see such schemes as false billing, timeshare rip-offs, cheque and wire fraud and dozens of other cons to steal cash. The biggest losses — more than $20 million — occurred through spear phishing, also known as wire-fraud attacks, in which fraudulent emails target specific people or organizations to gain access to confidential information.
Jeff Thomson, a criminal intelligence analyst at the centre, recommends keeping a regular routine to deter fraudsters.
Monitor your accounts and credit cards, check your credit report, and don't give out personal information over the phone or through email," says Thomson. "
Secure your social media accounts, use strong passwords, and make sure you store personal and financial information securely."
He says scams soliciting personal information are on the rise, and are in the top three reports received by the centre.
With an increase in identity theft we also see an increase in ID fraud," he says.
And romance scams continue to be popular. Last year, almost $20 million was lost to these scams.
Larocque says perpetrators often meet victims online, portray themselves as well-to-do individuals, establish trust and then offer to arrange a meeting.
Then, miraculously, these otherwise successful people encounter a streak of bad luck and need money quick to get out of a bad jam," he says.
Larocque acknowledges the reluctance of some people to report they've been duped. Only five per cent of mass marketing fraud is ever reported. Still, he says, the centre needs all the information it can get.
Sometimes, people carry some embarrassment because they've been a victim of fraud and they don't want to report it," he says. "
But the more information we get helps inform our efforts to disrupt fraudsters."
A success story
Some of that analysis can lead to the development of initiatives such as Project Chargeback. Launched in 2012, the anti-counterfeiting program helps people who have unwittingly bought fake goods.
In the 1990s, we didn't see a lot of counterfeit goods," says Barry Elliott, who founded the anti-fraud centre and now helps run the chargeback program. "
Now it's pervasive and much of it is high-end products."
The process begins when a consumer contacts the centre to report the purchase of a fake item. Staff then confirms the purchase is not authentic and relays the information to the credit-card company and issuing bank to assess. Then a repayment is made to the consumer.
Working with credit-card companies and the banks has helped get peoples' money back," says Elliott, a member of the RCMP's Criminal Intelligence Analytical Unit. He adds the centre has helped recover more than $15 million.
Britain's London City Police has studied the program and started its own chargeback program with help from the centre.
The CAFC's operational support unit also provides investigative packages for police all over the world.
All of this is geared toward the effort to disrupt criminal activities and limit and eliminate the tools at their disposal," says Thomson.