How to spot scams

8 scams you need to know about

If you use a cellphone or have an email account, you’ve likely been exposed to attempted scams. Familiarizing yourself with common scams can help you spot them before they turn into costly mistakes.

Watch as Inspector Badger, Scam Detective, explains eight of the most common scams (and almost falls for one himself!).


If you’re a visual person, you might also find this How to spot scams infographic helpful.

1. Unexpected money

The setup: A wealthy person asks the target for help with the transfer of a large sum of money, or an estate lawyer notifies the target of a large inheritance from a distant relative.

The swindle: The target is required to pay fees, write a cheque or provide bank account access in order to complete the transfer of funds; the target never receives the money.

2. Unexpected winnings

The setup: The target is notified that they’ve won a lottery, a contest, a sweepstakes or some other prize giveaway.

The swindle: In order to claim the (invented) prize, the target is instructed to pay a lottery tax or provide personal information.

3. Buyer-seller fraud

The setup: The target comes across a tempting online listing for a premium item at an extremely low price.

The swindle: Scammers collect the payment but never deliver on the product; multiple accounts and fake reviews are used to disguise their deceptive practices.

4. Fake charities

The setup: The target is contacted by a charitable organization and asked to make a donation.

The swindle: Scammers pose as existing charities or invent fake ones and then pocket the donations.

5. Dating schemes

The setup: The target is charmed by a new online sweetheart and develops an emotional bond with them.

The swindle: The new sweetheart is actually a scammer; once the relationship has developed, the scammer asks for expensive gifts, travel or cash.

6. Get-rich-quick schemes

The setup: A job placement service offers to find a position for an unemployed target, or the target is approached by a businessperson with an investment opportunity.

The swindle: The scammer collects placement fees for their fraudulent job placement service, or takes off with the target’s investment money.

7. Threats and extortion

The setup: The target receives urgent demands for money from a government official or from law enforcement, or the target discovers ransomware on their computer.

The swindle: The scammer poses as an authority figure to scare the target into paying them; the scammer holds computer files hostage to pressure the target into paying them.

8. Identity theft

The setup: The target is asked to log into their account or confirm their password, or the target is contacted by a friend or relative and asked a series of questions.

The swindle: The scammer impersonates the target’s personal and business contacts in order to gain personal details that can then be resold or used for identity fraud.

Here are five easy things you can do right now to prevent identity theft.

How to report a scam

If you believe you’ve been targeted by a scammer, contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

Tips for staying safe

Here are a few tips to help you stay safe:

  • Buy some time. In an emergency, it’s natural to act before you have time to think. It’s no coincidence that many scams are designed to encourage an immediate reaction, before you have a chance to spot any red flags. Allow yourself to take a minute to assess a situation, even if it seems urgent.
  • Use the address bar. Get in the habit of visiting websites directly instead of following links contained in emails. It takes only a few extra seconds and helps you be more mindful about your online activity.
  • Cross-reference. It’s perfectly reasonable to verify the identity of the person or business you’re in contact with. Use a means outside of the original communication, like doing a separate web search or returning a call through a publicly listed number.
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