Rights & Money

The Most Common Online Scams

Are you up on the latest schemes to get your money?

By Caitlin Finlay


With so many types of scams being run in the cyber world, it’s important to stay alert and aware, questioning anyone asking for your private information and anything online that seems too good to be true. We’ve reported before here on investment scams, online-romance scams, tech-support scams, and even COVID-19 relief scams.

October is Cyber Security Awareness Month, and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) has issued a bulletin warning Canadians about the most common online scams. “With the ongoing pandemic, Canadians have increasingly relied on the Internet to conduct everyday activities, such as buying and selling goods or looking for a job,” states the CAFC bulletin. The Centre estimates that fewer than 5% of fraud victims report an incident, but those victims alone lost almost $4.5 million in 2019.

In 2019, merchandise-related scams accounted for losses of over $2.3 million. Merchandise frauds involve scammers creating fake online ads, pop-ups, fake company websites, and fake classified-ad sites. The scams can involve a wide variety of items including vehicles, animals, apartments, vacation rentals, electronics, event tickets, and even counterfeit goods. The CAFC reminds consumers that if the asking price of a product is too good to be true, it is too good to be true.

Merchandise scams victimize not only those purchasing goods online but also those selling goods. Scammers will use various techniques to get sellers to send them money, provide them with banking information, and even ship the item without having received a payment.

Service scams accounted for $1.4 million of losses in 2019. These scams offer services at a reduced rate or services that will help speed along a bureaucratic process, but these are often low quality or non-existent services, processes that cannot be processed faster, or attempts to steal personal information. Examples of service scams include help with government documents, tech-support scams, immigration scams, and financial and air-duct cleaning.

Job scams accounted for losses of $710,000 in 2019 with 232 victims. The most common scams involve counterfeit cheques. The scammer offers a job for which you’ll get paid by cheque or requests aid cashing a cheque, but the cheque you’ll get is a counterfeit and once it’s been deposited, you’ll be stuck with paying back any withdrawn funds. Examples of these scams include caregiver positions, data entry clerks, and personal assistant positions.

More recently, there have been increasing numbers of reports of cryptocurrency scams wherein the victims are asked to accept a payment to their bank account then transfer it through a cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin or Litecoin. The money received is often from other victims or compromised accounts, and the victim transferring the funds could be arrested for money laundering.

The CAFC includes these tips to protect yourself from scammers:

  • Know the value of products and be wary of very reduced prices
  • Pay attention to spelling errors—these can be signs of scams or fraudulent websites
  • Look for customer reviews and ratings
  • Make sure the company’s contact information is listed and accurate
  • After seeing an ad for a job, confirm from the company’s website that it is in fact hiring
  • Frequently check the CAFC index for up to date information on common scams

Photo: iStock/Oleksandr Hruts.