Category Archives for "Scams"

Money Tips for Travelling Abroad

By Randall Orser | Personal Finances , Scams

Accessing and converting money while travelling abroad will always cost you but there are some ways of doing this that will cost you less.  Converting your money can comes with some horrendous fees which are often invisible to you, to help you here are some of the most common high fee currency exchanges to avoid.  

Converting Currency – Having some of the local currency in your pocket when you arrive in a foreign country may make you feel more comfortable, getting your cash before you leave Canada is a good idea.  Check online for the best exchange rates at local banks and currency exchanges.  Once you arrive at your destination do not exchange cash at an airport currency exchange counter, their fees are hugely overpriced sometimes as much as 15% more than at a bank.  While you are away use local bank branches or currency exchanges in town to convert your cash.

Watch out for money converting scams such as being short changed, check that the amount you are quoted is what you actually receive. 

Credit Card Conversion – most credit cards companies will add on a foreign exchange fee of around 2.5% when you use your card abroad.  To avoid these fees, get a travel credit card with free foreign exchange.  These often come with other travel perks, but you will also pay an annual fee.  Beware of vendors offering to sell to you in your home currency they are not doing you any favours, the deal will come with bigger and mostly invisible charges.

Debit and ATM Conversion – Banks also get a slice of the pie from currency conversion fees.  Hidden fees on ATM withdrawals and debit card charges are taken as a percentage of your transaction.  Although this is a fee, it is usually at the lowest conversion rate that you will find except for special exchange free credit cards.  If you are using an ATM machine abroad, make sure that it is bank affiliated as private machines will add an extra fee on top of the currency conversion fee.

Credit Card Cash Advances – If the ATM will not accept your debit card you may have no option but to use your credit card for a cash advance. Whether at home or abroad this type of transaction is expensive.  You will be charged a credit card advance fee as well as compounding interest from the day that you make the withdrawal on your entire credit card balance.  To avoid excess charges, go online as soon as you can and pay off your card in full (including the withdrawal service charge), preferably before withdrawing cash.

Traveler’s Cheques – Traveler’s cheques used to be the cheapest way to access cash while abroad but now fewer places are accepting them and they are harder to cash.  You will also pay commissions and fees on traveler’s cheques, and vendors may charge you a fee to cover the cost of cashing them. 

Buying an Airline Ticket Online? Look Out For These Scams

By Randall Orser | Personal Finances , Scams

We all get excited when we think we have scored a deal especially when it comes to cheap airline tickets.  However, it pays to be cautious when buying online as airline ticket scams are fairly common and those thinking they have got a great deal can soon find out that they have been conned.  When you find a deal, research the company offering it.  Check out review sites and online forums to look for complaints and warnings about scams. 

The best way to protect yourself is to make friends with a travel agent and let them advise you when there are air travel deals to be had.  Buying tickets through a licensed travel agent is always the safest way to go so that you are covered under the Consumer Protection rules and regulations in effect in your province.

If you are buying tickets online, as well as booking on a registered travel agency website here are some tips to follow to avoid scams.

1.  Make sure that you are fully informed before you press submit:  Read the fine print to make sure that you know exactly what you are getting.  Double check dates, times, connections, seat allocation and luggage allowances.  

2.  Watch out for Phishing Scams: It is easy to be lured in by sites offering lower prices for the same flights offered on other sites.  Once you click accept to make a purchase, they collect all your credit card data then tell you that your payment was declined.  They may then ask you to wire payment which results in your money being stolen and your credit card being compromised.

3.  Be Sure that the Airline or Hotel has a Record of Your Booking:  Before you set out on your trip make sure that you check with the airline and the hotel directly to make sure that you have a legitimate booking.

4.  Watch out for the airline ticket credit scam:  Airline tickets are bought with stolen credit cards by scam artists who then cancel the tickets and get a credit and confirmation number.  They then offer the ticket credit for sale online at a discounted price saying that they are unable to take the flight.  You will be asked to wire money to pay for the flight and when you try to use the credit with the airline you will not be allowed to as it was bought with a stolen credit card.  

5.  Make sure you read the refund or exchange policy on your airline tickets:  Make sure that your ticket allows for you to make changes or to cancel your trip, otherwise you will be paying fees to make changes.

6.  Make sure that you are aware of flight time changes:  Sometimes on-line booking sites save money by putting passengers on cheaper flights without warning them beforehand of the time changes.  These changes can affect the remainder of your journey causing missed connections. Make sure that you check directly with the airline for any flight or time changes or cancellations at least 24 hours before departure and ask them to notify you of any changes to your booking.

7.  Make sure that you know what currency is being used on the website:  It is easy for Canadians to think that they are paying in Canadian dollars when they are actually paying in US dollars which is a big price difference.   Make sure that you know if you can be charged more if the exchange rate changes.  Try and get a fixed price that is not affected by changes in the exchange rate.

From an article by The Travel Industry Council of Ontario

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!

What Should I do if I am a Victim of Identity Theft?

By Randall Orser | Personal Finances , Scams

If you are victim of identity theft or identity fraud, you should immediately take action to prevent further crimes from happening and to restore your credit and good name. Here are some important steps you need to take:

  • Stay calm! Think about all the identification information that you have that may have been lost or stolen.  Check filing cabinets for records of all your credit card number, bank account information, and government identification.  Create a spreadsheet and enter all this information. Use it to track all the steps you take to recover or correct each item and all the information that you obtain.
  • Track all communications with financial institutions, law enforcement and government or other agencies.  You can enter this information on your spreadsheet for future reference.
  • Contact both credit bureaus and let them know that you have been a victim of identity fraud.

    Equifax Canada http://www.consumer.equifax.ca/home/en_ca   1-800-465-7166    TransUnion Canada http://www.transunion.ca  1-877-525-3823    

    Request  a copy of your credit bureau report – this report may be free of charge. Request that a "Fraud Warning" be placed on your credit file instructing creditors to contact you personally before opening new accounts in your name - these warnings remain on file for 6 years. Remember to contact and file fraud warnings with both bureaus 
  • Review your credit reports – look for new credit accounts that you did not open, creditors who have made enquires on your credit report when you have not asked for credit.  Contact all of these creditors and describe your identity theft case and ask them to close any accounts you did not open, and to decline any requests for new accounts.

  • Contact your local police – Report the theft of your identity information and ensure that you are given a report number and record it for future reference.  Banks and creditors may require proof of the crime in order to erase debts created by identity theft.  Any suspicious information on your credit bureau reports should be disclosed to the police.  

  • Contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) – The CAFC is the central agency in Canada that collects all information and criminal intelligence on all forms of identity theft and fraud.  They do not investigate but they provide assistance to law enforcement.  Visit their website at Canadian Anti-Fraud Center or call them at 1-888-495-8501.

  • Review all of your bank and credit card statements – If you see any suspicious transactions on your account contact the creditor or you bank and file an Identity Theft Statement.  This will help you notify all financial institutions and creditors of your identity theft.  It tells them that you did not create the debt or charges and gives them the information to start an investigation.  The Identity Theft Statement can be obtained from the CAFC website.

  • Notify credit card companies, banks and other financial institution and change all of your passwords – contact all credit card companies and banks where you have accounts that might have been affected. You then need to do the following:                                                    1. Close every account that might have been compromised. Request that it be processed as "closed at the consumer's request".
    2. Obtain replacement bank or credit card with a new account number and a new Personal Identification Number (PIN)
    3. Put a "stop payment" on any stolen cheques.
    4. Ask to have a password added to your account.

  • Notify Canada Post and utility and service providers - If you suspect that someone had your mail re-directed, notify Canada Post. Notify your service provider (telephone, cell phone, electricity, water, gas, etc.) of the identity fraud.  Ask that any new requests for service first be confirmed with you.   

  • Immigration Documents - If your immigration documents have been lost or stolen, or if you suspect that someone is fraudulently using your immigration documents, contact the department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada http://www.cic.gc.ca or 1-888-242-2100

  • Passport -If your passport is lost or stolen contact any Passport Canada office or Canadian government office abroad to report it and get a replacement.

  • Social Insurance Card If you suspect someone is using your Social Insurance Number (SIN) you should visit a Service Canada Centre and bring all necessary documents with you to prove fraud or misuse of your SIN. Also, bring an original identity document (your birth certificate or citizenship document). An official will review your information and provide you with assistance and guidance.

  • Notify Provincial agencies who may have issued your identity documents including birth certificate, driver’s license, health card etc.

For more information regarding identity theft visit the following websites:                          http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/scams-fraudes/victims-guide-victimes-eng.htm            http://www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca/fraud-escroquerie/types/identity-identite/index-eng.htm

What is Identity Theft and How Would it Affect Me?

By Randall Orser | Personal Finances , Scams

Identity theft occurs when your personal information is stolen by someone with criminal intent and it is a serious issue in Canada.   It can lead to months of financial and legal struggles and even severe financial loss.  Criminals try to acquire any of the following personal information: 

  •  Full name
  • Social Insurance Number
  • Driver’s license
  • Credit card and banking information
  • Home Address

With a combination of this information they can apply for credit in your name, gain access to your banking and credit card accounts and potentially rack up a large amount of debt in your name.  As we work harder to secure our personal information, criminals also work harder to find newer ways to access it.

Here are some warning signs that your personal information may have been compromised:

  • A creditor that you already have or a new creditor contacts you to say that they have received an application from you
  • A bank or credit card company lets you know that you have been approved or rejected for a loan or product that you did not apply for
  • You stop getting bank statements or important banking information in the mail
  • You notice strange purchases on your credit card bills
  • A debt collector calls you about a debt that is not yours

How to Avoid Identity Theft:

  • Don’t carry around personal information such as your Social Insurance Card, passport, or birth certificate unless you absolutely need it
  • Always inform your bank and any creditors that you have changed your address so that any mail containing personal information reaches you
  • Immediately inform your bank or credit card company if you lose or misplace a card, and check with them if you do not receive a new card before the old one has expired
  • Do not give anyone access to your credit cards or bank account
  • Always take your ATM receipt or say no when asked if you would like one
  • Never leave your purse or wallet alone
  • If you close a chequing account dispose of all paperwork including cheques
  • Always review your bank and credit card statements and make sure there are no strange charges
  • Limit the number of credit card accounts that you have so that you can keep track of them all
  • Never give out any personal information over the phone unless you can verify the caller is who they say they are
  • Do not use your SIN as an identifier for bank or credit card accounts
  • Always check utility and other bills to make sure that they are yours
  • Always memorize your pin, and make sure no one is looking when you are use it
  • Never use numbers with meaning such as your date of birth
  • Always tear up or shred bills before disposing of them
  • Never apply for credit on applications that you receive in the mail, especially if it asks for your SIN
  • Get in the habit of requesting your credit report once a year so that you can catch any unauthorized credit accounts opened in your name

For more ways to protect your identity visit:               http://www.consumerhandbook.ca/en/topics/consumer-protection/identity-theft