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Digital security

7 clues to help you spot a scam

February 15, 2024

Scammers use a wide variety of strategies to trick people, including phishing scams, romance scams, phone scams and get-rich-quick scams. Even though these scams are all unique, they usually involve manipulation techniques in hopes that the recipient will let their guard down. Here are a few tips to help you spot them.

How to spot a scam

It's easy to think that fraud and scams only happen to other people, and that you won't fall for them. However, scammers are always improving their methods. They can also be quite clever and convincing.

Having a few examples of potential scams in mind can make it easier to spot them. Without necessarily knowing all the tactics scammers use, there are a few red flags you should look out for. Seeing one of them is your cue to be on the alert and make sure the message is coming from a reliable source.

1. It’s unexpected

Did you win a contest you didn't enter? Get a notification or text message about a package you didn't order? Or maybe you got a call from someone who claims there's a problem with your computer and that they can fix it. The first question you should ask yourself is, "Did I make this request?"

Desjardins emails and text messages

Although we do use email and text messages to communicate with members and clients, we only do so to share factual information. For example, you might receive a message or notification to let you know that your statement is available or that your credit card balance is high. You could also receive a text message asking you to confirm a login attempt on your account or certain credit card transactions.

2.  It's really urgent (and there's a reason)

These messages often require you to accept an offer quickly, send a payment or provide information within a very short time frame. They also typically mention that the consequences could be dire if you don't take action right away. This pressure is designed to create panic. The sender wants you to act quickly without taking the time to question the message, do your research or realize that you're dealing with a scam. Here's an example of a phishing email:

3. The tone is threatening… or way too nice

On one hand, the message could be scary or intimidating. For example, it could describe a very large transaction that could fail, state that you could lose your job or threaten legal action if you don't do something. These tactics are typically used to keep you off balance. On the other hand, certain techniques (like romance scams) are rooted in seduction and use friendly or even flirty language to play on your emotions. 

4. The request seems unusual

If you're asked to provide personal or confidential information (such as a password, personal identification number [PIN] or social insurance number), ask yourself why the person who's writing to you really needs this information. Never disclose personal information if you didn't make the call yourself.

You should also be on the alert if someone asks you to hand your credit or debit card over to them, or leave it in your mailbox (which happens with fake advisor and mail carrier scams).

5. The source of the message seems fishy

Is the email address from a free email service or a name that looks like the company's name but with extra characters? Is the message sprinkled with typos and spelling mistakes? That could be your first tip that you're dealing with a phishing attempt.

Whether you're using email, social media or your phone, stop and think before clicking a link, downloading an attachment or engaging with a caller you don't normally communicate with or who may seem suspicious in any other way.

6. It sounds too good to be true

Unless it's an auction, always question buyers who might offer a lot more than the asking price for something you're selling online. You should also be wary of ridiculously good deals on new or like-new electronics and other hot-ticket items (such as video game consoles, high-performance bikes and smartphones). 

Making "easy money" often comes at someone else's expense. Similarly, if you come across an investment opportunity that promises low risk and high returns, it's probably a scam. Question everything. If an offer seems too good to be true, trust your gut.

7. It’s top secret

Does a company executive have the inside scoop about a major transaction that no one else can know about? Is someone asking you for money to get out of a jam, but insists on you not notifying the authorities? These tricks are designed to prevent you from talking to anyone who might recognize the scam and warn you about it.

Here are a few tips to help you avoid scams:

  • Beware of unsolicited calls, emails and text messages. 
  • Keep your personal and financial information as private as possible
  • Ask questions and make sure any offers you're considering are legitimate. Make sure the person you're talking to really is who they say they are.  
  • If you get a suspicious phone call, write down the name of the person you're talking to and end the conversation. Don't rely on the caller ID or the number you were given. Contact the company or government agency directly, using the contact information from official websites or a reliable external source (Canada 411, Autorité des marchés financiers, Registre des entreprises, professional order, etc.).

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Report, report, report! 

If you think you may have been a victim of fraud, contact the following resources as soon as possible: 

  • Your financial institution and any other financial partners 
  • Your local police department
  • Credit rating agencies (Equifax and TransUnion)

You can also report fraud to the following organizations: 

Some victims can feel embarrassed or even ashamed that they were scammed, and may not want to talk about it. But that shouldn't be the case. It's important to tell the people around you and notify the authorities. Scammers are always adjusting their tactics to manipulate and trick their victims.

You can also call us at 1-800-224-7737 for confidential advice or support.