The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has released its list of the top-10 scams of 2017, with online purchase scams at the top of the list, resulting in over $13 million lost.
"It's kind of no surprise given that 95 per cent of consumers are shopping online at any given time," said Evan Kelly, a spokesperson for the BBB, which wants to get the word out to as many as possible about these scams.
"It's almost impossible to get your money back (after being scammed). Raising awareness is one of the only tools we have in our war chest to help Canadians with," he said.
"In 2017, Canadians lost over $95 million (to scams) – that's more than 2016 and more than 2015."
Stick to websites that look robust and be wary of deals that look too good to be true, advised Kelly.
Wire fraud – or "spear phishing" – costs Canadians more than $20 million a year, he added.
This type of scam targets businesses and often sees fraudsters pose as chief economic officers. Payroll workers are asked to "redirect" money through wire and email transfers – and the money goes right into the fraudsters' accounts.
"You've got to make sure there are a couple sets of eyes looking at these emails ... It can be really, really sneaky," said Kelly.
It is important for employees to be educated about the risk and to diligently verify email addresses – as they might be only slightly off a legitimate-seeming address.
When it comes to romance, it turns out you can lose more than your self-respect and dignity. "Twenty-five per cent of online profiles at any given time are fake," said Kelly.
The BBB is therefore encouraging people to never send money to someone you've never met in person and to be cautious on dating sites.
Last year was also a big year for cryptocurrency, with a bull market for the electronic currency drawing attention (and money) from around the world.
But Kelly advised people to be cautious when buying it: cryptocurrency is speculative, high-risk and mostly unregulated, he explained.
"It lacks a whole lot of transparency," said Kelly. "You can't track it. Criminals like it because of that wide anonymity."
Outside of the digital realm, a minority of contractors are still fleecing customers.
The BBB estimates more than $3 million is lost to contractors over the year. Sometimes they take down payments for a job and then simply disappear, said Kelly.
The fraudsters often target vulnerable populations, like seniors, for their scams.
"They know seniors are trusting and sometimes have a hard time with the upkeep of their house. So they're a lot more susceptible to that scam," said Kelly.
He encouraged people to always get a second opinion.
For a full list of 2017 popular scams, visit bbb.org/mbc/programs-services/top-10-scams/top-10-scams-in-detail/.
– Joel Barde, Pique Newsmagazine