Scamcouver: In B.C. and beyond, online and phone fraud is a growth industry

Misled by "Microsoft"? Sideswiped by sextortion? In B.C.'s largest city and beyond, such deceptions have grown into a sizable business

Credit: iStock

In 2017, Canadians lost nearly $85 million to schemes, scams and rip-offs, according to RCMP Sgt. Guy Paul Larocque, acting officer in charge of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre in Ottawa. Of that total, B.C. accounted for $7.9 million—a figure topped by this August, when losses for the year reached $8.7 million. The number of ruses in this cottage industry is vast, from romance burns and extortion to investment fraud. Here are a few.


“You owe the government money”

ATTACK VECTOR Telephone (recorded message)

THE SCAM “Canada Revenue Agency” calls to inform you that you owe thousands of dollars in back taxes and/or fines; if you don’t pay them right away, you’ll be prosecuted or jailed


THE TELL The real CRA doesn’t call you up to demand payment. Nor does it ask for payments to be made in iTunes gift cards or bitcoin

FEAR FACTOR $$$—the pop-ups can be alarming


“Your computer has an issue”

ATTACK VECTOR Telephone, or pop-up warning from a suspicious website

THE SCAM “Microsoft Tech Support” has noticed some unusual activity and suspects your computer may have a virus. It offers to remedy the problem—sometimes by directing you to a website, asking your permission to remotely control your machine

THE GOAL Money, identity theft, malware insertion, botnet integration (claiming your computer as part of a matrix of remotely controlled computers, which in turn are used for illegal ends) 

THE TELL The technician, whose name is “Jack,” has a strong Indian accent; you work on a Mac; you don’t actually own a computer

FEAR FACTOR $$$—the pop-ups can be alarming


“We’ve been watching you… enjoy yourself”


THE SCAM You receive an email with a password you’ve used before in the subject title. (The password has been purchased from a list of breached ones.) The email says the fraudster has installed two-way/splitscreen videocam software on your computer and has recordings of the pornography you’ve been viewing, and you, since you’ve been watching it. If you don’t pay up, they’ll send the video to your entire contact list—yikes!

THE GOAL Money—$7,000, paid in bitcoin, to keep your “dirty little secret”

THE TELL You don’t watch porn



“I think you’re incredible, and I’m going through a difficult time”

ATTACK VECTOR Initially online (often through a dating or social networking site), then via email and, occasionally, telephone

THE SCAM Using a fake social media or online dating profile, the scammer builds a personal relationship with the victim over time—sometimes several months—then divulges an urgent need for money

THE GOAL Money, or intimate photos that are used to extort

THE TELL The scammer will usually have an for why they can’t meet in person, but still will express powerful feelings in a very short time. Look for spelling and grammar mistakes that seem out of sync with the love interest’s profile (a “Cambridge University professor” whose syntax is consistently poor, for example)

FEAR FACTOR $$ (but man, this one hurts)


“You have a package waiting for redelivery”

ATTACK VECTOR: Emails from delivery companies like DHL, Fed/Ex and UPS

THE SCAM: A company emails you to say it tried but failed to deliver a package—and asks you to click a link to have it redelivered. The link will then take you to a dodgy website or install a virus

THE GOAL: Identity theft, malware or keystroke logger insertion

THE TELL: When you click on the sender’s address, it’s from a different domain or ends in a foreign country suffix. Grammar and spelling errors

FEAR FACTOR: $$ or $$$$$—if you actually click on the link


Your account has been suspended


THE SCAM: “Netflix” emails, saying that your account has been suspended because it couldn’t “validate your billing information.” You’re then asked to click on a “Restart Membership” link

THE GOAL: Identity theft, malware or keystroke logger insertion

THE TELL: Sender’s domain name different from what you’d expect (i.e., not 



“We have your files”

ATTACK VECTOR Internet hacking

THE SCAM Hacker takes control of your computer, then quarantines all your files so you can’t access your own information

THE GOAL To get you to pay a “ransom” to release the files

THE TELL None. By the time it’s happened, you’re out of luck

FEAR FACTOR $$$$$—even if you pay, there’s no guarantee they’ll turn over your files


Insert card here

ATTACK VECTOR Any card reader that can be accessed by public

THE SCAM A physical device that reads your credit card info is placed into the card reader slot of legit machines. A tiny camera is also often installed; it records your PIN

THE GOAL Your credit card, basically 

THE TELL Avoid machines where the card feels too tight in the slot or there’s an unusual external add-on to the slot

FEAR FACTOR $$$ (most credit and debit card fraud is reimbursable)


“Just pay the security deposit, and the place is yours”

ATTACK VECTOR Craigslist “Home for Rent” ads

THE SCAM Fraudster places a fake Craigslist “Home for Rent” ad. Responders are asked to wire transfer a security deposit to the owner, who is conveniently out of town. Or someone (usually, a tenant who has rented a place for this purpose) posing as the landlord shows a home to several prospective tenants, collecting a cash security deposit from each


THE TELL In the first scenario, you’ll be asked to send money–often by wire transfer–to someone in another city before seeing the property. In the second, you may not know until you (and all the others the “landlord” has scammed) show up, expecting to move…into the same place

FEAR FACTOR $$ (Anger factor: $$$$$)