I love you, I need you — please send money

Last year, Canadians were duped out of $17million in the name of love.

Then again, since only five per cent of victims of fraud report that they’ve been had, that number is probably a whole lot higher.

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“People are giving away their money and their heart,” said Danielle Primrose, president and CEO of BBB Mainland British Columbia as she announced the top 10 scams across Canada at a press conference at the Vancouver police headquarters on Wednesday morning.

Breaking bank accounts through online dating sites came in at number two, with employment scams earning the dubious distinction of the top scam of 2016.

Many scams touch our desire button — a desire for love, a job, money, or a simple connection with another human being.

With romance schemes, the fraudster sets up a false account on a dating website. They pick out their victim and then trick them into a phony emotional relationship. “They earn your trust and then they start taking advantage of you,” Primrose said. “Very quickly they’ll create a relationship and then the sob story starts to happen. Very, very quickly they start to ask for money — ‘I want to meet you but I’m travelling. Can you please wire me some money so I can come to see you?’”

Asked if there’s a particular group of people or type of person being targeted for scams, Primrose says “there’s a scam for everybody. These are professionals; it’s their day job.”

She and the other speakers at the press conference stressed you should never wire money to people you don’t know. As well, March 15 is Password Day, a reminder that you should be changing your internet passwords regularly.

The top 10 scams of 2016 were:

1.)  Employment scams. Someone emails to offer you a job you’ve never applied for. They’ll make it sound very official, with lots of forms to look over. They send you a cheque and ask you to send some of the money back. You cash the cheque, write one to the scammer and discover that the cheque you received has bounced.  “It’s a cheque-cashing scheme.”

Last year there were 200 complaints with $5.3 million lost by job seekers.

2.)  Romance scams.

3.)  Identity fraud. This can happen even with children. A scammer takes out a credit card in a child’s name. It doesn’t raise a red flag with the bank because the child does not yet have a credit rating. Never carry your social insurance number on you.

4.)  Advance for loans. Paying an up-front fee for a loan is illegal in Canada — something that too many people don’t know. Instead, they believe it when they’ve been told they’ve been pre-approved for a loan and no credit check is needed — as long as they pay a “fee”. The fee gets paid but the loan doesn’t exist.

5.)  Online purchase scams. There are “countless” ways this can work such as offering counterfeit merchandise or “free trials.” The scammer asks you to pay the difference between the price they’re offering and the price it’s worth.

6.)  Wire fraud or spearfishing. A scammer will research a company and find key people who work there. They pose as someone who works there too and sends an email saying a bill needs to be paid immediately. “Be vigilant when there’s a sense of urgency.”

7.)  Investment fraud. You’ll be offered big promises of low risk and high returns. Essentially it’s an “unregulated 50/50 bet on whether a stock will go up. It’s akin to online gambling,” Primrose said. Seek professional advice if you want to invest in anything.

8.)  Lottery fraud. Always remember that “if you didn’t enter you didn’t win.” Legitimate lotteries and organizations are being cloned. You’re asked to pay tax in advance of receiving your prize.

9.)  CRA scam. It was the number one scam in 2015 and while it’s quieted down, scammers are returning to previous victims who responded to threats that they owed money to the Canadian Revenue Agency and could be charged if they don’t pay immediately. Now past victims are being contacted and are being told they can get their money back if they pay a fee. “The CRA does not make threatening phone calls or ask for personal information,” Primrose said.

10.) Fake online endorsements and fake sponsored content. You’re asked to purchase a product based on someone’s endorsement. But the reviews might not be genuine or the person might be paid to make the endorsement. “Fake reviews are disingenuous and take away from the foundation of trust.”

The BBB (Better Business Bureau) encourages everyone to report potential scams to its scam tracker. It helps BBB spot trends and issue warnings. “Too many victims are ashamed or think it won’t help,” Primrose said.

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