Fighting fraud is a never-ending battle, and the public needs to play a big role in helping combat it, says John Pecman, Canada’s Commissioner of Competition.
“Fraud does not discriminate and no one is immune from it. No matter what your education or income and no matter where you live, you can still fall victim,” he adds. “That’s why it’s important for the public to come forward and report fraud. Every time we put a fraudster behind bars or obtain significant financial penalties, it’s a win for both consumers and legitimate businesses.”
Mr. Pecman says the Competition Bureau’s annual Fraud Prevention Month helps improve awareness and understanding of the dangers of fraud.
“They say that knowledge is power, so we focus on information to arm people to recognize fraud,” he adds. “The ultimate goal is to provide Canadians with the tools and information they need to make it harder for fraudsters to find victims.”
Mr. Pecman says while fraud comes in many forms, the rise in popularity of online purchasing and social media use has resulted in a shift away from traditional mail and telemarketing scams.
“More and more fraudsters have turned to using social media and creating deceptive representations on the Internet,” he says. “But whatever the vehicle, we want to help people recognize a scam, which is why the overarching theme of Fraud Prevention Month every year is: Recognize it, report it, stop it.”
But being scammed online is just one of the many potential fraud risks facing Canadians, and experts recommend that they become fraud aware.
For example, identity thieves can’t steal what they can’t read, so it’s best to destroy personal information that’s no longer needed, advises Jeanette Simoes, senior product marketing manager at Fellowes Canada Ltd., a subsidiary of Fellowes Inc., a global office and home equipment company.
“One of the most important steps you can take in preventing identity theft is to use a shredder to properly dispose of personal information so it doesn’t end up in the wrong hands,” she says. “This should be done on a regular basis – as often as one is finished reviewing sensitive documents.”
It’s also important for people to safeguard personal information in their homes, especially if they have roommates or employ outside help, adds Ms. Simoes.
There are many ways that identity thieves target Canadians, she says, including “dumpster diving,” stealing wallets or mail, completing a change of address form to divert mail to another location, hacking unprotected computers and stealing credit and debit card numbers as a transaction is being processed.
“The results of identity theft can be devastating,” says Ms. Simoes. “Often victims express great pain and emotional stress from having gone through the ordeal and typically spend thousands of dollars undoing the damage to their good name and credit record.”
She adds that the average victim spends more than 175 hours of their personal time to clear their name over several years. They also risk losing job opportunities, being refused loans, education, housing and cars, and have even been arrested for crimes they didn’t commit.
In an office environment, personal information and data is at risk due to any shared areas that paper accumulates such as around copiers and printers, and some functional areas within an office, such as finance, legal and human resources, tend to be at even higher risk because of the sensitive information they deal with.
A good way to help protect again identity theft in an office environment is to develop guidelines for all employees outlining proper procedures for protecting information, says Ms. Simoes. This should include shredding all proprietary information that’s no longer needed with a cross-cut or micro-cut shredder, logging off computers and locking workstations or office doors at the end of each workday and filing away confidential information rather than leaving it on a desk top.
Fraud Prevention Month
March is Fraud Prevention Month in Canada. Now in its 11th year, the annual education and awareness campaign encourages Canadians to recognize, report and stop fraud. Spearheaded by the Competition Bureau, Fraud Prevention Month brings together 125 law enforcement agencies and public- and private-sector organizations to combat fraud. For more information visit competitionbureau.gc.ca.
BY THE NUMBERS
Complaints about mass marketing fraud in 2014
Value of losses due to mass marketing fraud in 2014
Increase in value of losses due to mass marketing fraud in 2014 compared to 2013
Complaints of identity theft in 2014 (an increase of 30% compared to 2013)
Source: Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre
View full report online at globeandmail.com.