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10 scams to watch out for this holiday season

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Google search results for “meridian credit union.” There are two fake ads in the search results that claim they are for Meridian Credit Union, with URLs that are different than www.meridiancu.ca.

    
The holidays are a time for cheer – but also a time to be extra cautious with your personal and financial information. Unfortunately, cyber criminals are very good at exploiting online activities like holiday shopping, deliveries, and charitable donations. It’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s fake – that’s why it’s so important to remain cautious with respect to suspicious links, social media accounts, and text messages. 

Remember, if at any time you suspect that you may be a victim of fraud you should immediately contact your branch, or call Fraud Management at 1-866-592-2226, option 5.

To help protect yourself, we’ve put together a list of 10 common types of scams and fraud to watch out for.


1. Fake Google ads

While not holiday-specific, there has been a recent surge in fraud via paid search results. You know how the first few search results in Google are often marked as ads? Cyber criminals have taken to creating Google ads that look like they lead to a legitimate website, like a bank or credit union. The links in these ads lead to fake websites designed to look real and encourage a person to enter their log-in information, giving cyber criminals access to their online banking account.

Here’s a recent example of two paid search results impersonating Meridian Credit Union. The links are marked as ‘ads’, and if you look closely you can see that they contain spelling errors and they're using incorrect URLs. Meridian works to take down any fake websites and ads as quickly as possible, but fraudsters can create new ads that may not be detected right away.

Google search results for “meridian credit union.” There are two fake ads in the search results that claim they are for Meridian Credit Union, with URLs that are different than www.meridiancu.ca.

How to protect yourself

Never go to your online banking log-in page using search results. Always enter the exact URL and go to the page directly. For example, type www.meridiancu.ca into your browser’s address bar. You can also bookmark this URL so that it’s easier to access in the future.

2. Amazon impersonators

One of the most notable retail scams gaining ground during the pandemic is an Amazon impersonation scam. Fraudsters send an email or message from “Amazon,” claiming that your account has been hacked, often asking you to verify your log in details. They may also offer you a “refund” for a recent unauthorized purchase, then claim that they have “accidentally refunded” you too much and ask you to pay back the difference. Other scams will tell you that in order to reset your account you need to purchase a gift card and verify it by sending them the gift card number and PIN, which the fraudsters will take for themselves.

How to protect yourself

  • Only call numbers you have verified through an independent source, such as the company’s website or the back of your debit card. If you get a message asking you to call Amazon, verify the number first.  
  • Don’t believe anyone who tells you to buy a gift card in order to make a payment. Gift cards are for gifts.


3. Fake online stores

Ever since the pandemic began, online shopping has skyrocketed – and it increases around the holidays. As a result, cyber criminals have gotten very good at creating fake online stores that look real. While many of their products will have regular prices, to help them look legitimate, they’ll price some items very low to entice people to buy. Around the holidays they’ll also take advantage of people desperate to get hard-to-find items, like the latest video game system. Remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 

How to protect yourself

  • Be very careful when making purchases on websites you found through a social media ad, banner ad on another website, or even search results. Always navigate directly to a store's website by typing it into your browser’s address bar. 
  • Only purchases items from stores you know and trust.
  • Only make purchases on websites with an “https” in their URL. Think of the “s” as an extra layer of security that makes it less likely your information will be intercepted by third parties.

4. Fake receipts and refunds

With increased online shopping over the holidays, scammers know that people are likely getting receipts and refunds online as well. They send text messages and emails saying that you need to open a link in order to view a receipt (for a purchase you can’t remember making) or get a refund (for a return you didn’t make). They’re counting on people wanting to check just in case they’ve forgotten about something in the chaos of holiday shopping. 

Here’s an example of a fake text message about a refund, designed to make you want to go to the link to learn more.

Alt text: A text message displays on a phone screen. It reads: (100001)Deposit: You Received a Refund #CA767960. http://bitly.ws/jSr5.

How to protect yourself

  • Never open any links or attachments in a message if you don’t recognize the sender, weren’t expecting the message, or find it suspicious in any way.
  • Always take a moment to think it through. Many scammers will try to shock you into opening a link by saying that it’s a receipt for a very large purchase, or promising that you’re getting a refund for a lot of money. 
  • Don’t be fooled by a local area code – scammers are good at spoofing real phone numbers.

5. Fake delivery notifications

Most online shopping results in deliveries – even more around the holidays. Unfortunately, scammers are getting very good at taking advantage of this process. We’ve seen a big increase in fake delivery notifications via text messages and emails. These notifications tell you to open a link, or even try to get your personal information by asking you to confirm your delivery. 

Here’s an example of a fake delivery notification via text message. You can see that it’s trying to get you to open a link and enter personal information by threatening to return your delivery to the retailer. 

A text message displays on a phone screen. It reads: Please confirm your details for shipment today, otherwise your parcel will be returned to the retailer: qiqy.link/9nX1Cq

How to protect yourself

  • Never open a link in a suspicious text message or email, and never give your financial details in an email. 
  • Check all delivery and shipment notifications to make sure they’re legitimate. You received a confirmation when you made your purchase – do the details match?
  • Verify and track shipping by going directly to websites like FedEx, Canada Post, or UPS and using their tracking numbers. Do not open links in emails.


6. Charity and donation scams

Real charities use this time of year to ask for donations, but sadly, so do scammers. Generally, scammers use emails and phone calls to impersonate charities and try to trick people into providing their financial or credit card information to donate


How to protect yourself

  • Never give your credit card information over the phone to someone calling for a donation. Ask to call them back at a number you have verified.
  • Don’t open any links asking you to donate.
  • Go through legitimate channels if you want to make a donation. Go directly to a charity’s website to find their phone number, email, donation page, etc. 
  • If you’re not sure that a charity is real, look up their charitable registration number on the Canada Revenue Agency website.


7.  Mobile app scams

There’s been an increase in mobile app scams recently. App stores suddenly contain many more fake apps designed to gain access to your personal and financial information. In some cases, people are spending a few dollars on an app only to find that it does nothing. In other cases, people connect the fake app to their social media accounts or email and lose a lot more than a few dollars. These apps can also infect your phone with malicious software designed to capture information. Caution is key – never download an app that you’re not 100% sure about, even if it looks like it belongs to a real organization or brand.

How to protect yourself

Only download apps from legitimate sources, like the Apple or Android app stores. Even in legitimate app stores, do your homework:

  • Look beyond an app’s star rating and the first few reviews. Swipe further down the list – does everyone agree that it’s a good choice?
  • Check into the app by reading reviews on websites you trust or asking friends about it.
  • Don’t provide financial information or link the app to other accounts unless you’re 100% sure it’s trustworthy.

8. Fake text messages

Text messages are one of the most popular mediums for scammers. Common scams include messages about fraudulent e-Transfers, fake alerts about suspicious activity on your Google or Apple account, and messages offering quick loans.

Here’s an example of a text message claiming to offer a quick and easy loan. The point is to get you to call the phone number so that the scammer can get your financial information while pretending to set up the loan. 

Text message reads: Dear Customer, You are Qualified for $5,000. The loan amount will be sent to your bank account within 12 working hours after all the procedures have been completed. Kindly call us back on (587) 207-4145 or (902) 915-1762 to complete the process. Thank you for choosing Loans Canada
Image is sourced from Loans Canada

How to protect yourself

  • Never open a link in an unsolicited or suspicious text message or provide personal information to anyone you don't know. 
  • If you get a text message that appears to be from Meridian asking you to open a link, please forward it to OnlineBankingSecurity@meridiancu.ca.

9. Social media fraud

Social media sites and apps are a common hunting ground for cyber criminals. Common scams include fake customer service accounts, comments on a popular post enticing people to open a link, and fake online contests and giveaways. Ever seen a comment from someone stating they make $8,373 per hour doing basic tasks from home? Yeah, that’s a scam.

How to protect yourself

  • Before you start interacting with someone new, try to verify their account. Did they just create it recently? Do they interact with people that you know and trust?
  • Don’t open a link in a post or comment unless you have a good reason to trust it.
  • Don’t give your financial information to anyone via social media.

    
10. Physical theft

We’ve gone over many scams you need to watch for online – remember to exercise caution out in the real world too! Just as criminals are keen to steal your personal data, they’re happy to steal your devices, too. Make sure to keep your laptop, mobile devices,  and wallet secure at all times.


How to protect yourself

  • Tuck your devices away when you’re in a crowded place. 
  • Never leave your laptop, phone, or wallet unattended in a café or restaurant.
  • Don't leave wallets, handbags, or your cheque book in the glove compartment of your car.
  • Set up remote lock and ‘find my phone’ features on your mobile device.

What to do if you think you may be a victim of fraud

If you have any reason to think that someone has gotten hold of your personal or financial information, contact your financial institution immediately. Indications that you may be a victim include, unauthorized transactions, strange activity on your accounts, opening a suspicious link, missing e-Transfers, etc. 

You can reach Meridian by contacting your branch or calling Fraud Management at 1-866-592-2226, option 5. 

To report a fake message posing as Meridian, forward the email, or send a picture of the SMS to OnlineBankingSecurity@meridiancu.ca. Please note that this is an automated mailbox for reporting phishing and website fraud only – we are unable to provide responses from this mailbox.

Learn more about protecting yourself

9 fraud prevention tips from Interac

How to spot and avoid phishing scams  

How to prevent e-Transfer fraud and interception 

 

Meridian Credit Union communications are intended for informational purposes only and do not constitute financial advice or an opinion on any issue. We would be pleased to provide additional details or advice about specific situations if desired.

For permission to republish this content, please contact the Meridian Credit Union Marketing Department at communications@meridiancu.ca. ©️ 2022 Meridian Credit Union