By Jim Poling
Hey, Beverley J. Karl@email@example.com.
I am emailing to let you know that I am returning your nose. I found it sniffing around my business the other day, looking for ways to relieve me of some hard-earned money.
It arrived in an email informing me that you are restoring my non-existent personal computer protection services. And, you are processing an annual charge of $389.95 from the updated payment fund source (whatever that might be).
You also suggested that I telephone you with any questions I might have.
Sorry sweetie, but I won’t be calling you, or Amy Heil or Alice Reinert (who want me to do some Interac money transfers), or any of the thousands of scammers driving thousands of decent people to distraction every day with scam emails, messages and telephone calls.
Scamming is becoming more prevalent during these times of hyper-inflation, political uncertainty and international crises. There is some evidence that scamming grows during difficult times, and the COVID-19 pandemic certainly provided scammers good opportunities to take advantage of people who have been isolated and living with uncertainty.
Canada’s federal government received 107,000 reports of scams and fraud in 2021. A total of 68,000 victims were reported to have been taken for $332 million.
Those numbers likely are low because many people are reluctant to report having been scammed.
In the U.S., 59 million Americans reported losing money to telephone scams in 2021, a 22-per-cent increase over the previous year. The financial losses totalled $29.8 billion.
Those figures come from TrueCaller, a call identification application.
Email scamming also has increased to become a favourite of fraudsters trying to steal your money. Email scams are designed to instill a sense of urgency to respond and play on emotions already heightened by anxieties over what’s happening in the world.
Statista, a German data company, said that almost one-half of the 300-plus billion emails sent and received every day are spam. Most come from the U.S., which produces 8.6 billion scam emails every day, followed by China with 8.5 billion and Russia with 8.0 billion.
Brazil, India and Germany also are major sources of scam email.
Not surprisingly, social media is where more scam artists are going to do their dirty work. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that one in four victims of fraud last year said it started on social media with a post, an ad or some kind of message.
The FTC says that close to 100,000 people reported about $770 million in losses initiated on social media platforms in 2021. That’s an eighteen-fold increase over losses reported in 2017.
Scammers love social media for several reasons. It allows them to reach billions of people around the globe at little cost.
They easily create fake identities, or hack existing identities, and fine tune them with details people reveal about themselves on social media.
Bogus investment opportunities have become a leading scam, particularly involving cryptocurrency and the promise of huge returns that turn out to be big, fat zeroes and huge losses.
Romance scams also have become big. One-third of people who lost money to online romance scams last year said it all started on Facebook or Instagram with a friend request from a stranger, followed by sweet talk, and eventually, a request for money.
Another big one is online shopping. Various statistics show that 45 per cent of money lost to social media scams in 2021 involved online shopping, most often through Facebook and Instagram. Fake ads and lookalike websites were used to get people to order and pay for goods that were never delivered.
Put together, investment, romance, and online shopping scams accounted for more than 70 per cent of reported losses to social media fraud in 2021.
Our governments talk a lot about how we should protect ourselves from scammers. Talk is cheap and easy. We need government to get more directly involved in fighting online and telephone scamming.
Yes, individuals have a responsibility to look after themselves, but we need government to provide better legislation and more enforcement to stop scammers from taking our money and generally driving us crazy.