Rural Alberta communities aren’t immune from fraud, and small business is often the target of sophisticated fraudsters, whether they be provincial, national or international in nature. 

As March is Fraud Awareness Month, business owners can benefit from some advice that may very well save them some money.

Local businessman Gord Lawlor, who has owned and operated jewelry stores in multiple communities, shared some of his experiences with fraud in an effort to help other business owners avoid being ripped off by con-men.

In a phone interview March 19 Lawlor stated local business owners may be wary of someone contacting them by phone, email, text or social media with interest in something expensive or extravagant. 

He cited as an example someone contacting him by phone from another province asking about a rather expensive piece of jewelry, even something up to $15,000. As the call proceeded the caller had excuses for everything, including a credit card that was declined; the scammer claimed they just booked an expensive vacation on that card and must have maxed it out. 

Lawlor noted eventually staff decided not to proceed with a proposal that big over the phone; this is an effective strategy, as requesting the buyer appear in person may in effect call their bluff.

If, as suspected, the caller is actually a scammer in another province or country, obviously they will not appear in person at your Stettler-area business.

Lawlor stated that an acquaintance of his called describing a phone call like this. The friend stated they were quite excited about the prospective large purchase which can mean a lot to a small business’ bottom line, but the friend had an uneasy feeling that “something was wrong.” 

As it turned out, Gord spoke to his staff and they suspected the original phone call was a scammer attempting to rip them off.

Lawlor noted that these fraud lures dangled by scammers may be very tempting to a small business owner who is struggling to make ends meet.

Lawlor also related an incident he’d heard about locally where a woman was targeted in a romance scam; apparently, this lady had a “fiancé” overseas who was directing her to essentially send her life savings to him through gift cards. Red flags were being thrown up when this lady was regularly purchasing $1,000 to $1,500 worth of gift cards.

Technically, it’s not illegal for someone to buy that many gift cards over that short period a time but friends and family may note that it’s out of character for a person to do so, a signal that something may be wrong.

These are some of the pitfalls that rural Alberta business owners face through modern fraud. The RCMP provided a wealth of information and good advice for Fraud Awareness Month.

Federal campaign

RCMP Federal Policing Strategist Christina Zoernig shared a treasure trove of information about the bewildering array of fraud facing not just business owners but Canadians in general. 

“This March, the Alberta RCMP will be sharing information and resources in support of the Alberta Community Crime Prevention Association’s (ACCPA) Fraud Prevention Month campaign,” stated a press release to the ECA Review newspaper March 6.

“The campaign, which will include a weekly theme, seeks to educate Albertans on the many ways that fraudulent activity impacts their communities.”

She noted some scams getting a light shone on them included romance scams (partner is interested in you and asks you to send them money), phishing emails (email is fake and clicking it exposes your computer to theft), job scams (job doesn’t exist), buy and sell fraud (item doesn’t exist), lottery and/or prize scams (you are asked to pay a fee to claim your prize), tech repair scams (problem they describe doesn’t exist); and impersonation scams (sometimes called the grandparents scam).

“How can you protect yourself from these types of scams?” mused Zoernig. 

“Here are some helpful resources: Use strong and unique passwords for your online accounts; Learn the seven major red flags of phishing emails; and learn how to better protect your money from cyber criminals.” 

The seven red flags include threats, request for private information, sounds too good to be true, email shows up out of the blue, information mismatch such as obvious spelling errors, suspicious attachments and amateurish design.

Another area of focus in the campaign is business fraud such as investment fraud via social media; Ponzi or pyramid schemes; cryptocurrency scams; real estate investment scams; and offshore investment schemes.

Cpl. Sean Milne of the Alberta RCMP Provincial Financial Crime Team added, “As technology continues to evolve, scammers are finding new and innovative ways to convince a target that they are legitimate. Canadians can better protect themselves from these online tactics by learning how to secure your accounts, devices and digital connections.”

RCMP advised that if you believe you may be a victim of fraud, or are currently being targeted by fraud, please report it to your local law enforcement and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) at 1-888-495-8501. 

Instances of compromised personal and/or financial information should be reported to your bank and credit card company.

By Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 27, 2024 at 13:45

This item reprinted with permission from   East Central Alberta Review   Coronation, Alberta

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