OPP: Scammers won’t stop phishing as long as victims keep paying

ORILLIA – Members of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Anti-Rackets Branch, Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) and Ontario’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) are warning Ontario residents to check their emails, phone messages and computer popups. All are tools that criminals can use to extort money and personal information from you.

Phishing, ransom and service scams have the same basic goal. Typically, individuals make contact with you through your computer or via text message to tell you that you have “won a prize” or that you owe a sum of money. Some con artists will claim that they can provide telecommunications, internet, financial, medical and energy services for special or preferred rates. Although 95 per cent of the crimes go unreported, phishing, ransom and service scams cost victims approximately $15 million across Canada; approximately $7 million in Ontario. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre approximately 6,000 people fell victim to these scams in 2018.  

Investigators find two commonly used scams. In one version, the victim receives an email or someone calls pretending to represent a well-known computer-based company, and claims that the victim’s computer is sending out viruses or has been hacked. The scammer will request to gain remote access to the computer and may run some programs or change some settings. The scammer will then advise that a fee is required for the service and request credit card information. In some cases, the scammer will send a transfer from the victim’s computer through a money service. The end result is that the victim pays for a service that was never needed as the computer was never infected.

The SFO indicates a more surreptitious, large scale phishing and ransom scam is in circulation. Malware-infected emails were opened by employees of a large retail store that unintentionally launched a phishing attack, allowing hackers to steal the vendor’s credentials. Once the vendor information was successfully obtained, the company’s customer database was exploited, exposing millions of clients, including customer’s names, mailing addresses and other personal information. The data breach revealed millions of customers’ credit and debit card information. In the end, the company estimated that the data breach caused a multi-million dollar loss. 

Tips to prevent scams

If a victim was using a computer when they got scammed, it is possible that a virus or other malicious software is still on the computer. Police advise a full anti-virus check using reliable security software should be run. Anyone who does not have security software (such as virus scanners and a firewall) installed on their computer, can get help from a  reputable computer professional.

Scammers may have also gained access to online passwords. Victims are advised to change these using a secure computer.

If a victim has paid someone by credit card or through an electronic funds transfer (e-transfer), they should contact their financial institution or credit card company immediately. They may be able to reverse or stop the transaction.

Anyone who suspects they’ve been a victim of a phishing, ransom or service scam, or knows someone who has been a victim, is urged to contact their local police service and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre by phone at 1-888-495-8501 or through their website.

“Recognize fraud. Reject it and report it,” police urge.