Extortion scams are on the rise. Here are some tips to avoid them
TORONTO -- March is Fraud Prevention month and with more people working from home and shopping online during the pandemic there has been a huge increase in many different scams.
While romance and investment scams continue to have the largest dollar losses in Canada at more than $35 million combined in 2020, extortion scams are now the most reported type of fraud in the country.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre in North Bay, Ont. which monitors scam activity across the country said criminals are sending a number of different threats and claim if you don't pay up you could face harm or jail time.
“Extortion scams are now number one for the number of reports we get. There were 17,390 different extortion scams reported in 2020,” said Jeff Thomson, an RCMP investigator with the Anti-Fraud Centre.
With more people self isolating and being away from friends and family during the pandemic, police say it’s created an environment that is ripe for fraud and criminal activity.
In 2020, Canadians lost $12.5 million to extortion scams.
“Canadians are getting text messages, e-mails and voice messages and the fraudsters are far more sophisticated than they have ever been before,” CTV Chief Financial Commentator Pattie Lovett-Reid said.
In one scam a CTV News Toronto viewer from Scarborough said they got a letter claiming their driveway had been illegally altered. The letter said this is not a scam, please make a payment of $500 dollars in Bitcoin or they could be fined up to $5,000.
“Fake letters are being sent to property owners in Toronto about driveway widening permits,” a spokesperson for the city of Toronto said. “The letters falsely claim that driveways on private property have been illegally altered without authorization from the City and include instructions to make bitcoin payments. Please do not send money or make payments if you receive a suspicious letter.”
Extortion letters have also been sent to homes in the GTA that have been filled with a white powder that turned out to be powdered sugar. The scammers claim the powder is fentanyl and people must pay money or they or their family will be harmed.
Criminals have also been doing “sextortion” where they either claim they have proof a person was looking at sexually explicit material online or they have photos of someone in an uncompromising position which they will release to the public unless money is paid.
“There is going to be some threat by nature or coercive nature and they are going to be asked to pay by Bitcoin. When it comes to these scams this is what we are seeing,” Thomson said.
Also watch out for scams that claim they can get you to the front of the line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine if you pay money in advance.
With tax time now here also watch out for calls, text messages or e-mails that claim your cash refund has arrived and then asks you to submit your banking information.
Part of the reason so many people get scammed is only about five per cent of fraud is ever reported.
Police say when you hear about a scam tell your family and friends and even take the “tell two people” approach.
Investigators say if you tell at least two people and ask them to tell two more people, it can spread the word and help prevent more fraud.