Column: If it sounds too good to be true…

Fraudsters have been around for as long as people have had money. Some attempts are clumsy and obvious. But far too many find their mark.

I got an email from a captain in the U.S. military the other day. He wondered if he could trust me.

See, he’s got these two military trunks that he wants me to keep safe.

“If you can be trusted,” he writes, “I will explain further when I get a response from you for further clarification.”

This is not the first time someone has wanted my help. Barely a week passes without some appeal for my co-operation. Usually it’s an abandoned bank account, or a giant sack of money that needs a temporary home.

All I need to do is send some information to cement the partnership.

I know I should be touched by this uninvited desire to help my finances. But I have my doubts. A quick internet search reveals there are several abandoned military trunks out there, and several other army captains looking for assistance.  And while the good captain may well be part of the 82nd Airborne, I think if he were, he’d know how to spell it.

Instead, his letter is like the millions that sneak through spam filters to land in unsuspecting inboxes like mine.

Most are dealt a quick delete.

But others actually generate a response, beginning a long and ultimately costly exchange for the responder.

It is easy to laugh at these crude attempts at deception. But they are just one in a long (and I mean long) list of scams designed to decieve.

March is fraud awareness month. It’s a chance to reacquaint ourselves with some of the newer and more imaginative ways people try to separate us from our money.

Last year, for example, 748 Canadians were looking for love in all the wrong places and lost over $17 million through online romances. These kinds of scams, where individuals gain trust by pretending they’re someone else, remain one of the most popular.

But others are equally effective – and lucrative.

According to the Competition Bureau of Canada, Canadians lost more than $290 million to fraudsters over the past two years alone.

Many of the victims are seniors. During the same period, says the Bureau, Canadians between the ages of 60 and 79 were defrauded $28 million.

They are not the only ones to fall victim. Younger people too, are being preyed on by a host of imaginative fraudsters who prowl the Internet and social media.

Many of the crimes go unreported. Those who are defrauded are often too embarrassed to come forward. In fact, police estimate only five per cent of scams are ever reported.

Awareness and a healthy dose of skepticism are critical to avoiding being taken advantage of. This year’s top scams include subscription traps, fake websites, ransomware, “astroturfing” and employment scams. But there are a host of others.

I remember one a few weeks ago that claimed a special fund had been set aside for victims of Internet fraud. All I had to do was send a little information.

To learn about some of the more popular frauds, check out the Competition Bureau’s website, or download the bureau’s “Little Black Book of Scams.” The 30-page booklet offers insights into the more popular scams and tips on how to avoid becoming a victim.

If you do fall victim, report it. Investigators need the information so they can gather evidence, warn others and hopefully level charges.

Fraudsters have been around for as long as people have had money. Some attempts are clumsy and obvious. But far too many find their mark.

Knowledge is our best defence. That, and the simple advice: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

NOTE: On Wednesday the Better Business Bureau of B.C. released its national list of top scams in 2016 and the amounts investigates say was reported being taken:

1. Employment Scams – $5.3 million reported

2. Online Dating Scams – $17 million reported

3. Identity Fraud – $11 million reported

4. Advance Fee Loans – $1.1 million reported

5. Online Purchase Scams – $8.6 million reported

6. Wire Fraud – Spearphishing – $13 million reported

7. Binary Option Scams – $7.5 million reported

8. Fake Lottery Winnings – $3 million reported

9. Canada Revenue Agency Scam – $4.3 million reported

10. Fake Online Endorsements – $Unknown

Greg Knill is editor of the Chilliwack Progress