Canada | Fraud

34 per cent of Canadians have fallen victim to fraud: survey

Outdated and unsafe techniques used to protect personal information online are a key factor in creating increased vulnerability, CPA Canada’s 2020 Fraud Survey finds.

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Woman working on a laptop computer. She has blond hair.Thirty-four per cent of survey respondents have personally experienced fraud, with 18 per cent saying they were victims of credit card fraud and five per cent saying they were subjected to online fraud (Getty Images/ courtneyk)

In 2019, nearly 45,000 Canadians fell victim to fraud, losing more than $96 million, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. Yet, according to CPA Canada’s 2020 Fraud Survey, many Canadians continue to use unsafe and outdated techniques to protect themselves and their personal data.

As per the findings, 34 per cent of survey respondents have personally experienced fraud, with 18 per cent saying they were victims of credit card fraud and five per cent saying they were subjected to online fraud. The latter figure will likely rise as people do even more over the internet, says Claudiu Popa, principal risk adviser at Informatica and author of The Canadian Privacy & Data Security Toolkit for Small & Mid-Size Enterprises.

The survey found that 74 per cent of Canadians visited or bought items from web-based retailers in 2019, while the same number bank online. “The frequency in which you carry out online transactions increases your risk, especially because Canadians are not using the most secure methods and systems,” says Popa.

As well, 70 per cent share their lives on social media. “With more of our daily activities going online, the ability of fraudsters to take advantage of unsuspecting Canadians increases,” adds Doretta Thompson, CPA Canada’s Financial Literacy Leader. “Devices such as smart locks, home security cameras, laptops and even smart TVs can be infiltrated and compromised with access to the right information.”

While Canadians are learning more about fraud—54 per cent said they’re learning how to protect themselves from news media reports, while 47 per cent said they’re getting educated from their financial institution—many still have trouble recognizing fraud, says Popa. They still find it hard to differentiate a real email from a phishing scam, especially as fraud-related emails mimic real ones so well, while those fake Canada Revenue Agency phone calls are frightening enough to scare just about anyone into handing over their personal information. 

One problem is that for individuals, these fraud events occur in isolation. They get one email or one phone call and so they don’t recognize how these hackers work. “When you’re seeing one scam at a time, you don’t have the big picture perspective that allows you to see patterns and anticipate how these things are going to turn out,” says Popa.

So, what can you do to make sure you don’t become a fraud victim? Here are some ideas.

1) CREATE BETTER PASSWORDS

The first step is to strengthen your passwords. Many people still choose an easy-to-figure-out string of letters or numbers. Popa says to use different passwords for different sites—something most people don’t do. Consider online password managers, which can help you securely keep track of your passwords or, at the very least, write down your passwords on a piece of paper, which according to CPA Canada’s survey, only 22 per cent of people do. He also suggests using two-factor authentication, which is when you have to enter a code sent via text along with a password when logging into a site. Accounts that have two-factor authentication enabled are much more difficult to break into, he says. 

2) REVIEW YOUR TRANSACTIONS

One of the easiest ways to detect fraud is to monitor your credit card transactions. An unexpected charge could be a sign that something nefarious has occurred. Fortunately, 87 per cent of Canadians surveyed do review their accounts monthly. However, implementing real-time transaction alerts, which many banks now offer, makes it even easier to determine if a bank account has been breached. [See Does a credit card charge look suspicious to you? Here’s what to do]

3) SHRED PERSONAL DOCUMENTS

While Popa says there aren’t as many dumpster diving fraudsters as there may have once been, it’s still important to shred any documents that contain personal and sensitive information. As soon as a document goes into the garbage, it’s ripe for the taking and it may even be considered public if it’s found off your property. You never know where your information might end up, he says. 

4) WATCH YOUR CREDIT SCORE

It’s a good idea to know your credit score—36 per cent of Canadians do not, according to the survey—because any change in that score could be a sign that a fraud has occurred. “Be aware of the changes in your score,” says Popa. “You want to see if there’s an abnormality.” Credit monitoring agencies Equifax or TransUnion Canada can send you one free report a year, while you can also sign up for notifications that can alert you to a potential fraud.

5) SCREEN YOUR CALLS

With more scams stemming from phone calls and texts, it’s more important than ever to keep your contacts up to date. Don’t answer calls or texts from unknown numbers—if it’s a real person they’ll leave a message. Currently, 37 per cent of Canadians do not screen calls from questionable numbers.

STAYING VIGILANT

While hackers are always finding new ways to steal money from unsuspecting people, Popa says that Canadians are also getting savvier and are doing a better job at detecting fraud. “People are more aware and more concerned,” he says.

With an increase in the number of people reporting breaches, it helps others better understand what’s happening, while continued fraud-related education will help people detect potential scams.

READ THE SURVEY

Take a look at CPA Canada’s 2020 Fraud Survey for further insight on what Canadians are lacking in terms of protecting themselves and their personal information. Also, find out the four things you need to know about identity theft and how to stay vigilant 24/7.

The CPA Canada 2020 Annual Fraud Survey was conducted by Nielsen via an online questionnaire, from January 24 to February 5, 2020 with 2,013 randomly selected Canadian adults, who are members of their online panel.