Awareness key to avoiding fraud

Envision Financial launched its new monthly information series last week in Hope with a workshop on fraud prevention.

Lindzee Herring of Envision Financial offers some practical advice on how to avoid scams.

Envision Financial launched its new monthly information series last week in Hope with a workshop on fraud prevention.

The free event focused on personal and business fraud issues. Topics covered included debit card skimming, selling items online and recognizing the warning signs of common scams.

“We didn’t want to come across like we’re alarming people in any way. Rather, it’s to make people more aware,” said branch manager Cindy Helmer.  “Being scared of fraud and not using any technology is not really going to help anything because technology is always being improved along the way. So, it’s the education on how to use it that is crucial.”

Seniors were cautioned about the popular “grandparent scam” that is currently resurfacing around the province. The victim receives a distressed call from someone posing as their grandchild or another close relative in need of money – usually amounting to thousands of dollars – for an emergency situation, such as a car accident or legal matter.

Another common scam is the prize pitch or lottery scam. Victims are asked to send money for fees or taxes in advance to collect their prize, but never receive their winnings.

Overpayment fraud is also listed among the top scams for 2011 by the RCMP. It is often related to free online classified sites like Craiglist or Kiiji, where the fake buyer sends payment by cheque, overpays for the product, and requests that the extra money be sent back to them. However, the cheque turns out to be fraudulent and the seller loses money and their product.

“Fraud happens every day,” said Helmer. “Stop and before you react, think about the situation. If it’s too good to be true, it usually is.”

The RCMP estimates that fraud in Canada totals $30 billion annually. Mass marketing fraud alone accounts for nearly $10 billion in losses every year.

Envision Financial plans to hold another fraud workshop in June specifically focused on online and internet fraud. The credit union is also organizing other information sessions on different topics in April and May.

Top five fraud prevention tips:

1. Don’t give personal information or account numbers to anyone until you have confirmed the identity of the person asking for it, and shred all documents containing your personal information.

2. Lock and secure your cheques; never leave them in a vehicle or area where they can be easily obtained. Be aware if someone sends you a cheque, asks you to deposit the money in your account, and then requests you forward most of the funds by wire transfer or money order elsewhere.

3. When choosing a personal identification number for your debit card or a personal access code for online banking don’t choose obvious numbers such as your date/year of birth, address, telephone number or social insurance number. Never lend your card out to anyone, including friends and family, and change your PIN regularly.

4. Beware of phishing emails that appear to come from legitimate businesses or financial institutions. Don’t click on links in these emails as they go to fraudulent websites and any information obtained from you will be used to commit fraud.

5. Check your account statements regularly and monitor your bills and accounts for unusual activity. If you suspect that you have been a victim of fraud, contact your financial institution right away.