Category Archives for "Scams"

Travel Booking Scams and how to Avoid Them

By Randall Orser | Personal Finances , Scams

Summer is here and it’s time to think about getting away from it all.  We all know how scammers are trying to trick us at home, but did you know that they are also busy trying to scam you out of your trip? In a report from the Association of British Travel Agents Fraudsters conned UK holidaymakers out of approx. $12 million Can in 2018 with an average financial loss of approx. $2800 Can per person. Fraudsters are using more and more sophisticated methods to target destinations and popular times of the year when demand is high, and availability is limited. People are looking for a good deal, and once they find out that they have been conned, it can be difficult and expensive to get a legitimate booking.

Here are five major booking scams to watch for and how to avoid them:

1. Fake Websites That Look Real

About 53% of travel scams are related to the sale of airline tickets.  This can include booking on a fake site, receiving an imitation ticket or paying for a ticket that you never get.  These types of scams are also common with accommodation and package deals.  Often people do not check that a site is authentic before booking and some don’t even know how to check.  

Before paying a deposit make sure the web address is legitimate.  Check the domain name, .net or .org are rarely used for shopping sites.   Also check for https:// (rather than http://) which should always be on the payment page showing that the site is secure.  Other clues to a fraudulent website are misspellings, wrong words or characters, fuzzy or low-resolution pictures of logos, trade associations and payment and card companies.

2. Being Directed Away from Trusted Sites for Payment

Fraudsters lure people away from trusted sites and request payment on a separate site, often offering a better price.  Alarm bells should also ring if you are asked for payment via an online bank transfer.

You should never pay by online bank transfer, always pay by credit card as you will get more protection from fraud.  If you are scammed, paying by credit card will give you a better chance of getting your money back.   Keep all communications on trusted websites.

3. Avoid Pop-ups Advertising “Amazing Deals”

Unsolicited promotional emails can often look legit but will sometimes click through to a fake website.  Watch out for the tell-tale signs of a fake website, and definitely avoid fake competition scams, like the current ones by phone for Westjet and Marriott Hotels.

Validate deals by logging on directly to trusted websites.  Once you know that the deal is valid use that trusted website to make your bookings.  

4. Fake Accommodation Listings

Accommodation bookings account for 25% of all reported scams.  These scams can include luxury villas at discounted rates. Sometimes the villas do not exist and other times they are offered without the owner’s knowledge.  These scams happen most often with accommodations in France and Spain.

It pays to do your research to make sure that this is a real listing, contact the owner or agent directly and again minimize risks by booking through a trusted platform. 

5. Using Unsecured Networks While Away

Booking travel when away from home can be a major security concern as your private data can be exposed via clouds and wi-fi.  The majority of vacationers use wi-fi during their trip and many do not check the security of their internet connection despite getting pop-up warnings. Public wi-fi includes both secured and unsecured networks.  Unsecured networks can be connected without the use of a password or login.  Secured networks require you to register for an account or password before connecting.   

Avoid sharing sensitive data or bank information over unsecured networks. Consider using a VPN that will encrypt your data and to help keep your connection secure.

From an article in The Guardian International Edition

Places Where it Can be Risky to Swipe Your Debit Card

By Randall Orser | Personal Finances , Scams

Canada is among the biggest per capita users of debit cards in the world and more than 99% of transactions occur without incident every year.  We are lucky in Canada that we are protected by the Canadian Code of Practice for Consumer Debit Card Services and Interac policies.  This means that your financial institution must reimburse you in full if you are a victim of debit card fraud as long as you took reasonable care to keep your account and PIN safe.   

Financial institutions are continually upgrading card security to foil would be thieves, and the introduction of chip technology means that the store terminal and your card communicate with each other during the transaction and carry out security checks to ensure that the card is valid.  This technology is very difficult to duplicate, and it means that debit card fraud losses have dropped by 92%.  Despite this protection from your bank, you should still be extra vigilant when using your card in the following places.

Non-bank ATM’s - A favourite method of stealing debit card details is through card skimming.  This happens when you swipe your card through a skimming device in what you think is a legitimate transaction.  The skimmer retrieves your debit card information which the thief will get when he picks up the skimmer.  These devices are often placed on ATM’s which are not attached to a bank, especially those in gas stations, hotel lobbies, small stores, or any outdoor locations.  As the ATM’s are not owned by a bank, they are not always well monitored so become a target for thieves. 

Mobile Vendors - Thieves can pose as legitimate street vendors swiping your card through mobile card terminals when they are actually swiping your card through a skimming device.  You should be especially careful when using your card at events, street markets and other places where small businesses process card payments remotely.

Gas Stations - Skimmers are often found here as the readers are not always well monitored.  Before you swipe your card, give the terminal a slight tug and if it does not feel secure do not swipe your card.  You should pay for your gas inside or go to another gas station.  It is better to suffer the inconvenience rather than having to deal with debit card fraud.

Self-Checkout Lines - Self-checkout lines in major retailers are also a prime target.  Skimming devices are placed over the card readers often by a team of thieves one watching the camera while one places the skimmer over the card reader.  Your information can also be stolen remotely using Bluetooth technology.  Once they have your information it can be used to create clone cards, or scan be sold on old to others for fraudulent purchases.

How you can find out quickly if your debit card has been compromised

Your bank will usually investigate if they see any unusual activity on your card and you will often be reimbursed before you even know it has happened. However, it is a good idea to continually (at least once a week) monitor your bank account so that you can report anything suspicious immediately.  Your current bank card can then be cancelled and a new one issued with a new number and PIN number.  

To try and minimize your losses consider regularly changing your PIN number, keeping only a small amount of money in your checking account and turning off any overdraft protection.  You are not liable for any fraudulent charges, but it can be a hassle dealing with debit card fraud. 

Tips to Keep Your Credit Card Safe

By Randall Orser | Personal Finances , Scams

Today, more than ever it is crucial to keep your credit card information safe.  How often do you think about the safety of your credit card transactions and what you can do to guard against theft?            

Here are some precautions to consider:

  1. As soon as you receive a new card sign the back for more protection should your card ever be stolen.
  2. Make sure that you don’t let anyone see your PIN (personal identification number) when you put it into a card reader or ATM. Always choose a number that you will remember.  Do not use birthdays, phone numbers, social insurance numbers or family names, and NEVER write the number down and save it in your wallet.
  3. Do not give out your credit card information to a caller.  Make sure that you initiate the call and know that you are dealing with a legitimate business. Never give out your number over a cordless phone as these can be scanned easily and cheaply by radio scanners.
  4. Make sure that you always get your card back after you use it and that you watch the sales person as they are processing your purchase.
  5. Always check your monthly statement and make sure that the charges are all yours.
  6. Destroy any voided or cancelled sales receipts yourself and cut up expired credit cards.
  7. Keep a list of your credit card numbers and toll-free numbers and keep it in a safe place so that you have it should you need to contact the credit card company to report a lost or stolen card.
  8. If your credit card is lost or stolen report it immediately to limit your liability.

If you are using your credit card for online purchases, follow these guidelines to avoid credit card fraud and identity theft.

  1. Only use websites that you trust. Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails as they could lead you to a fake website which has been set up to steal your information.  The safest way is to go directly to the website by typing the URL in in your web browser.
  2. Don’t make online credit card purchases from public places.  As public computers are less secure there is more chance of your information being stolen.  You are not safe even if you are using your own computer in a coffee shop, hackers have access to the same wi-fi signal and can intercept your information. 
  3. Make sure that your home computer is protected by the latest up to date anti-virus and anti-spyware from a reputable company.  Do not use anti-virus software advertised in a pop-up ad or from a link in an email.
  4. Check the reputation of a business with the Better Business Bureau if you have never bought from them before.  Do not use your credit card at any website with a poor customer service record.   
  5. Never give out more than the normally required personal information such as your address and phone number. Do not give out your social insurance number. If the site seems to be asking for more than the normal amount of information log out and don’t use it.  
  6. Make sure that the credit card entry page that you are using is secure.  To do this, check the URL in your browser bar. Secure sites have addresses starting with https:// and there should be a lock or a seal in the bottom right corner. 
  7. Avoid leaving your credit card information on the website for future purchases.  Although this is more convenient, if the site is hacked then your information could be compromised.  
  8. Always print your online purchase receipts and make sure that the amount that you are billed matches the amount on your credit card statement.
  9. Think about using a credit card with a a small credit limit to buy online.  If your account is compromised criminals will not have access to thousands of dollars.

Online shopping can be a treasure trove for fraudsters as the securities that are present when you buy at a brick and mortar store are not present online, such as using your pin number to verify your purchase.   So, it is best to take precautions to avoid the hassle of fraudulent charges and your account being compromised.

This Holiday Season – Shop Safely Online

By Randall Orser | holiday season , Personal Finances , Scams

During the holiday season millions are using online purchasing to avoid those hectic shopping malls.  However online shopping is different, you cannot meet the retailer or handle the goods prior to buying, and you cannot keep an eye on your credit card information.  Here are some safety tips to keep in mind when online shopping.

  • Know who you are dealing with – most of us shop with well-known retailers but if you are not sure about them check for their name, address, telephone and fax numbers on their website so you have their contact information.  Also check for quality assurance certificates or seals.
  • Look for websites that offer a lot of information about their products as you have to rely on their descriptions because you cannot touch or try on anything prior to purchasing.
  • Calculate the total cost of the goods and make sure to include shipping costs and duties if applicable to avoid any surprises when your purchase is delivered.
  • Read the terms and conditions of the sale.  These should be provided by the merchant in plain language and should include a description of the goods, the price, payment methods, delivery options, guarantees and warranties, return policies and your options if the goods do not arrive.  The merchant website should also include a simple process for handling complaints and inquiries and if applicable who is responsible for after-sales service.
  • Make sure you are comfortable with how merchants use your information.  Some use it to develop marketing profiles or sell it to others.  Before they do this, they should ask for your consent.  Reputable merchants will always publish their privacy policy.  If there is no privacy policy, you should think twice about buying anything.
  • Before providing financial information make sure the merchant has a secure transaction system.  Most internet browsers indicate when you are using a secure link. This will either be an icon, often a lock at the bottom of the screen or in the address bar of your browser, or if the website begins with https:// the s indicates that it is secure.
  • Be careful when buying from auctions as when you are buying from a private individual consumer protection laws do not protect you.  Read the rules of the auction site the better ones will have records of customer satisfaction and a system to resolve disputes.
  • Buying internationally might give you a good price but it involves more risk. Make sure you calculate the price with shipping and duties allowing for currency conversions and check that the goods meet Canadian safety standards.
  • If an offer sounds too good to be true stay away from it.  This includes a promise of a valuable prize for a low-cost purchase and any offer asking you to send money before you get the special deal.

With all this in mind, have a happy online shopping season!