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Roslyn KuninI’m writing this on April Fool’s Day, the day we set aside to play tricks on one another. Unfortunately, many people don’t limit their tricks to one day a year – they go way beyond harmless pranks.

These scammers are usually very clever people who would rather trick the rest of us out of our hard-earned and carefully-saved money than work for an honest living.

In fact, they put a lot of time, effort, creativity and technology into their scams.

These scams are often so sophisticated that they trick even the brightest among us.

Here are some true stories of people who became involved in scams. Some details have been changed to protect the vulnerable. Remember that these are only examples and tomorrow’s scams may contain new and interesting twists.

The first example occurred in Canada. A man received a call saying his wife was being held by police and that he would never see her again unless he immediately sent $30,000. He wasn’t to call the police since they were holding his wife.

The man panicked. Otherwise, he would have realized that Canada operates under the rule of law. The police are on our side and don’t kidnap people.

He immediately sent the $30,000. The fund transfer was successful, but the scammers told him that it hadn’t gone through and that he should resend it. He sent another $30,000. He was in the middle of sending $30,000 for the third time when his wife walked in the door.

The second example involves a phishing expedition where messages are sent from a supposedly legitimate source to extract data like banking information, credit card numbers or Social Insurance Numbers. In this case, the message appeared to come from a major phone company.

The woman who fell for this was not your usual victim. She was the recently retired head of a very large, respected organization. However, she had just spent a lot of time and effort installing services from that same phone company and the scam email appeared legitimate.

It was only after she had input far too many personal details that she realized this was a scam and stopped. By then she faced changing all the card numbers, etc., that she had sent to the scammer.

The third is an example of a very specialized scam. It’s aimed at marriage commissioners, the officials who perform civil weddings.

A commissioner was booked for a wedding as usual. He requested his normal small fee. The scammer then told a story about how a rich friend was paying for a good chunk of the wedding but only wished to write one cheque. Would the commissioner take and deposit this large cheque and give the wedding planner a cheque for the balance after deducting his fee?

The commissioner refused, so the only thing he lost was a booking for an actual wedding in the time slot he had held for the scammer.

Others, wishing to do the scammer a favour, lost thousands when their cheque to the scammer was cashed and the cheque they had received bounced.

Then there are all the tried and true scams that are still out there because they still work:

  • You’ve just won/inherited a lot of money and we just need a few dollars and your banking information to send it you.
  • Your grandchild is in jail and needs bail.
  • Your mother is in hospital and needs medical care.
  • A not-quite-legitimate e-retailer takes your money and never sends what you ordered.

Here are some rules to avoid being the next patsy:

  • Never get involved in a transaction that you didn’t initiate.
  • If it sounds too good or too awful to be true, hang up or delete. In the very remote case that it’s legitimate, someone will get back to you.
  • Detach if you’re asked for money or personal information.
  • If in doubt, verify. The victim in our first example could have saved a lot of money simply by calling his wife’s phone. Don’t believe that you have to act this instant. Even if a person is in jail or the hospital, an hour won’t make a difference and you can check things out in a few minutes.
  • Ask for information the caller should have. Your bank will have your account number. If they ask you for it for verification, ask them to tell you and you’ll tell them if it’s correct. Anyone who has seen your grandchild will know how old and how tall he or she is.
  • Don’t use any links or phone numbers that a possible scammer might give you. Instead, call your bank using the emergency number on the back of your credit card or use a question to get you to the official website of an organization for contact info.
  • To verify, use a different phone or other mode. Clever phone scammers might ask you to call the police. You hang up, but they don’t so your call to them isn’t disconnected. When you pick up your phone, they play a recording of a dial tone and then pretend to be the police.

We need to always be on guard for all the bright and unexpected ideas that scammers come up with to part us from our funds.

Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker.


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