The scale, sophistication, and types of fraud are on the rise in Canada, and Calgarians have not been immune to having been taken advantage of by criminals.
The Calgary Police Service fielded 8,604 calls for frauds and scams in 2022, and despite the high number of requests for service, police say this number still under-estimates the amount of fraud occurring in the city.
That exact amount, said Calgary Police Deputy Chief Paul Cook, is hard to quantify.
“Whatever the reasons are where people are reluctant to come forward… it’s important for law enforcement to be aware of whether it’s a new technique, or if it’s a new scam, where we can immediately start to educate the public to prevent victimization,” he said.
“It’s critically important.”
He said that the types of fraud they see are evolving and that even old forms of fraud are new again, being targeted at Calgarians with renewed sophistication.
“We see scams that reinvent themselves all the time over and over again, but where the complexity comes in is where they’re leveraging technology to build credibility and reach further victimization,” Cook said.
“Some of our more vulnerable population for example, our seniors who may not be as savvy on the internet or with cryptocurrency and things like that, are scammed out of their life savings.”
Education and prevention important to stop fraudsters
Fraud Prevention Month, said Deputy Chief Cook, was one of the ways that the police and other organizations are working to educate the public and provide awareness of what is going on.
Some of the top scams that have been reported to police include the grandparent scam—which bilked more than $1.6 million from Calgary seniors in 2022 by having a scammer claiming to be a family member in urgent need of money—to mass-marketing scams, identity theft scams, investment scams, Canada Revenue Agency or Service Canada scams, employment scams, romance scams, and gift card scams.
One of the scams currently targeting Albertans is related to the Government of Alberta’s affordability payments to seniors and families.
“Remember, the government would never text you or make an unsolicited call to ask you for your personal information,” said Minister of Justice Tyler Shandro.
Deputy Chief Cook said that the service knows many individuals fail to come forward when they are scammed because of the embarrassment involved. The Calgary Police Service has victim assistance services for those who have been defrauded.
“Certainly as Calgarians we’re trusting, and we trust people to be telling us the truth, and we believe in one another within our community. So to come forward after being defrauded or scammed, I know that can be a pretty big step for some folks,” he said.
“But I can tell you that it’s critically important to prevent further victimization within our community, and we would do everything we can to limit the financial loss to that individual victim, but I think it’s also important as a community we’re aware of the crime that’s occurring and then we can educate one another through that.”
Better Business Bureau releases 2022 BBB Scam Tracker Canadian Risk Report
The Better Business Bureau released their 2022 Canadian Risk Report as part of the start of Fraud Prevention Month.
That report shows that from 2021, there has been a 20 per cent increase in the median loss experienced by those who have been defrauded and a four per cent increase in scam susceptibility.
Men also reported significantly higher losses than women, on average losing $453 versus $249 for women.
Across the nation, the most susceptible group to fraud has been people between the ages of 35 to 44, losing an average of $500.
The top scam for 2022 was the home improvement scam, where people will pay a down payment for home repair work that is either never started, or partially completed with poor workmanship and demand more money to complete the project.
"Not only are we seeing more victims, but we are seeing people are more susceptible to falling victim to these types of scams," said Mary O’Sullivan-Andersen, CEO of the Better Business Bureau, Southern Alberta and East Kootenay.
"Over this past year, we've seen a lot of information on supply chain and labour shortages, and it's providing an environment that's been really right for those scams to occur. It's not just the door-to-door coming to your house, they're finding more and more sophisticated ways to earn your trust, or try to earn your trust in order for you to hire them."
She said that it wasn't just consumers that can face scams, and that many businesses can be exposed to losses from fraud as well.
"We've seen it from fake invoices to reaching out with out-of-office and trying to impersonate somebody in the company."
Reporting those frauds is equally as important as the ones that occur to individuals, she said. It comes down to maintaining trust.
"Businesses might be really struggling if they have fallen victim to a scam, especially when we see situations where either they've been scammed directly, or their privacy has been affected and ultimately their consumers have been affected," O'Sullivan-Andersen said.
"You got to get out there as a business and you need to get in front of it. You need to work with the right authorities to make sure that you're reporting it, and work with the right PR companies where were you need to get in front of it and keep your consumers and your customers safe."
Getting ahead of fraud can save thousands
Kyle Schuh, president of the Calgary chapter for the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners agreed with getting ahead of fraud before it becomes an issue.
"It can start with protecting your devices, your computers, your accounts—any of that key infrastructure—and training employees on what to look out for," Schuh said.
"Phishing scams are always big, so make making sure people know how to look out for that type of thing."
He said that businesses also need to be aware of protecting themselves internally from occupational fraud. Calgary Police recently laid charges against a woman who worked at an oil and gas company, who was alleged to have stolen in excess of $500,000 through fraud.
"Five per cent of an average business as losses can be attributed to some form of occupational fraud," said Schuh.
"The magnitude of that type of fraud is significant, and it does well to hire professionals who are trained in detecting and deterring that type of misconduct."
For more information on Fraud Prevention Month, see www.albertacrimeprevention.com/fraud-prevention-month.