Did you know that, according to police figures, Canadians reported losing over $120 million to scammers last year? The actual number could be much higher as the Better Business Bureau estimates that the figure jumps to well over a billion dollars when you include all the presumed losses that no one even bothers to report. Scamming is big business, and virtually all of it now takes place over the internet.
Not just money at stake
A lot of scams don’t always involve a request for money. Knowing that people may have their guard up, fraudsters often look for information about you that they can use to perpetrate crimes against others. They may simply hack your computer to find personal data that they can use to construct a plausible online identity that mimics a real person—i.e. you.
It can be difficult to identify hoaxers as it’s very easy to generate false numbers to appear on call display, and scammer numbers are always changing. Online fraudsters regularly develop new (and very creative) techniques and websites to lure you in, so familiarizing yourself with scams that have already been exposed will only provide you with partial protection.
A global problem
The reason that scamming has moved online is simple: anonymity. Scammers no longer have to put on a fake moustache and glasses when trying to trick people. All they need now is a computer and an internet connection. And that’s also why scamming has gone global.
Organized criminal gangs can set up shop in their home countries and connect with people anywhere in the world, which means they have an unimaginably big population to choose from. People in English-speaking countries are especially likely to be targeted, for the simple reason that English is the world’s universal language. Although scamming in other major languages is growing.
With cybercrime a truly international problem, it’s no surprise that countries are banding together to fight it. Part of their effort involves Cyber Security Awareness Month, which takes place every October. It’s an international campaign to inform people of the importance of being cyber safe, and at Oaken we do our part by vigorously endorsing this global initiative.
Cyber Security Awareness Month in Canada
To underline the scope of the problem, Cyber Security Awareness Month focuses on several different themes, the three most important of which are as follows:
1. How cyber threats work
Cyber threats can range from attempts to hack into government data to tampering with corporate websites or disrupting social media pages. For the general public, cyber threats are generally limited to attempts to steal your money or your identity. However, what unites all types of cyber threats is their reliance on poor security measures, and low cyber security awareness. Your first line of defence is to know how cyber threats work, since that allows you to understand how you’re vulnerable.
2. How cyber threats affect you
Your exposure to cyber threats increases with the number of devices you own that are connected to the internet, and that number is growing. No longer are we plugged into the web only through our computers or smartphones—TVs, fridges, cars and even thermostats are increasingly being hooked up to the internet. This means there are more and more portals for cybercriminals to enter your home. Protecting yourself from fraud and extortion becomes an ever-greater challenge in that context, and it’s important that you master the tools and techniques you need to stay secure.
3. How to protect yourself online
Being cybersafe isn’t something that only the pros can master. All of us can adopt simple behaviours that defend against the most common cyber threats. At the very least, your “cyber hygiene” should include the following:
• Practice good password etiquette
• Accept updates to your mobile devices, computers, and applications
• Secure your social media and email accounts
• Be on guard for phishing (and spear-phishing) messages
• Store your data securely, and know your back-up procedures
Stay safe year-round
The internet never sleeps, and neither should your security measures. Keep up to date with what’s going on in the world of cyber security. Get Cyber Safe is a great site for individuals wanting to learn about how to keep themselves safe online, and the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security is a good place to start for small businesses.
The former site has lots of content for the general public that you can share on social media, and during the month of October you can use #CSAM, #cyber and #cybersecurity as hashtags to promote awareness even more.
Also, if you (or someone you know) are a victim of fraud, you can learn more from the RCMP’s fraud page, as well as contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre to report a crime. If you're a victim of identity theft, call your financial institutions and tell them to flag your account, and inform Equifax and TransUnion, the credit bureaus that keep track of your credit history.