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Scams prey on lack of computer literacy and trust

Members of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Anti-Rackets Branch say service scams use technical sounding ploys to extort money and personal information from unwitting victims.

Service scams typically involve individuals who make offers to provide telecommunications, Internet, finance, medical and energy services. This category of scams may also include offers such as extended warranties, insurance, and door-to-door sales. Although 95 per cent of the crimes go unreported, service scams generated 422 Ontario complaints to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre in 2015, yielding 199 victims who sustained losses totaling almost $150,000.

“Service scam operators ultimately want to access the data and personal information they need from a victim’s computer to fuel further criminal activities, such as credit card fraud,” said Don Bell, assistant deputy commissioner, OPP Investigatons and Organized Crime Command. “Heed the advice; if it sounds too good to be true, or if the call is coming out of the blue, it’s likely a scam.”

Investigators note two scenarios are most commonly used. In one version, someone calls pretending to represent a well-known computer-based company like Microsoft, and claims that the victim’s computer is sending out viruses or has been hacked and must be cleaned.

The scammer will gain remote access to the computer and may run some programs or change some settings. The scammer will then advise that a fee is required for the service of virus cleaning and request a credit card number to cover the payment. In some cases, the scammer will send a transfer from the victim’s computer through a money service business. The end result is that the victim pays for a service that was never needed as the computer was never infected.

In another often used scenario, scammers will call and make an offer to reduce the interest rates on a victim’s credit cards or line of credit. Personal information is requested such as a Social Insurance Number (SIN), mother’s maiden name, date of birth, and the credit card number with the expiry date of the cards they want reduced.

If you were using your computer when you got scammed, it is possible that a virus or other malicious software is still on your computer. Run a full system check using reliable security software. If you do not have security software (such as virus scanners and a firewall) installed on your computer, a computer professional can help you choose what you need. Scammers may have also gained access to your online passwords. Change these using a secure computer.

If you paid someone by credit card or through an electronic funds transfer (EFT), contact your financial institution or credit card company immediately. They may be able to reverse or stop the transaction.

If you or someone you know suspect they’ve been a victim of a service scam, contact your local police service. You can also file a complaint through the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre website or by telephone at 1-888-495-8501.

Additionally if you have any information concerning fraud operations or scam activity in Canada, you can also contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS), or online at https://www.tipsubmit.com

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