If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

“There’s a sucker born every minute”
– attributed to P.T. Barnum

By MPP Toby Barrett

Each year too many people in Ontario feel the devastating impact of fraud. Criminals target and exploit people of all ages and all walks of life through false or misleading advertising, telemarketing, pyramid schemes and fake lotteries.

Canadians lose millions of dollars annually to the activities of scammers who bombard sucker lists with mail, door-to-door visits, telephone scams and online incentives – all favored means of separating the unwary from their money. New varieties of these scams appear all the time and the creativity and sophistication is sometimes beyond belief.

If you want to stay on top of scams, inform yourself and protect your personal information by visiting a few websites – the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, the Ontario Ministry of Consumer Services, or the O.P.P.

A joint W5 – Toronto Star investigation describes a sinister online world where crooks and conmen lurk, pretending to be lonely hearts but in reality seeking to empty bank accounts. One case involved a woman from Ayr looking for a second chance at romance. She now has the unfortunate distinction of reporting the largest amount of money lost to a romance scam in Canada – more than one million dollars stolen.

The perpetrators create a false identity and tap into dating websites. Once a bond is established, they ask their unsuspecting victims for money, who they never meet in person.

Closer to home, the Simcoe Reformer investigated a fraud that saw a Norfolk County woman lose her life savings of $739,000. She was the target of a Nigerian internet scam. The victim was so caught up by the story the fraudsters gave her, that even after the scam was explained it to her by police, she still believed one of the men emailing her wanted to be her husband.

There will likely be an arrest, but in the meantime the woman, a widow in her 70s, lost everything.

Unfortunately the victim didn’t take note of the poor grammar and spelling in the emails. After wiring a few money orders, Western Union warned she was being bilked and refused to send more money for her. Rather than heed the warnings, the victim found a friend to wire the money on her behalf. Over time, the victim’s bank also noticed something was awry and made some calls to check on the legitimacy of things. The bank confirmed that many of the bodies and agencies the victim thought she was dealing with didn’t even exist.

Victims aren’t always roped into scams with the hope of ‘cashing in’ – some people think they are helping someone else out and are doing the ‘right thing’.

In 2012, 1,500 Nigerian-style scams were reported in Canada, with an estimated $3.7 million lost.

If you suspect a scam, you can call the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or the OPP at 1-888-310-1122.

It is important to remember the basics: never give out personal information over the phone or internet, never send money to a stranger. If you have doubts about emails or letters, do an internet search, ask a friend or call the numbers above. Ask questions before it’s too late.