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March is Fraud Prevention Month: Here are some tips on protecting yourself from scammers

You get a threatening phone call from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) claiming that your taxes are badly in arrears. You’re ordered to make a payment immediately or face serious consequences—possibly even jail time.

This scam is one of the largest in Canadian history, targeting elderly people and new immigrants. Over the past five years, the crooks behind it have received more than $10 million, according to investigators with the CBC TV show “Marketplace.”

The CRA phone fraud is a doozy, but it’s just one among many ways that bad actors out there are preying on Canadians. Another popular one is to send an email or text message that’s supposedly from your bank, regarding your account. Don’t click on any links or provide any personal information. Call your bank to verify if you’re unsure.

Different people fall for different types of scams, and we all think it could never happen to us. But fraud can happen to just about anyone—even physicians.

Targeting physicians

The general perception of physicians as busy high-income earners makes them an attractive target for investment schemes. Scammers know that many physicians are so focused on their practice that they may not have time to manage their finances, let alone carefully research an investment proposal.

And because physicians often start their careers with significant debt, some may feel the pressure to “catch up” financially, making them more vulnerable to investment schemes that promise high returns.

If you’re considering a new investment opportunity outside your financial plan, your advisor can offer a second opinion—and flag potential risks.

Tips from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre

To raise awareness of the inventive and numerous scams out there, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre—a branch of the federal government—has declared March to be Fraud Prevention Month. The centre provides a full list of the latest scams, which you can find here, with specific tips on how to protect yourself from each one. The site also offers the following general advice:

  • Never provide more personal or financial information than is required for a transaction or discussion.
  • Be wary of anyone you don’t fully trust who asks for copies of your passport or driver’s licence, your social insurance number or your birth date.
  • Avoid dealing or negotiating with unsolicited callers, especially those claiming you have a computer virus, you owe taxes or there has been fraudulent activity in your bank accounts. Hang up and call the organization yourself using the number from a trustworthy source, such as the phone book, their website, or even invoices and account statements.
  • Review, in depth, the profiles of people who make unsolicited friend requests or who approach you for dates on social media and dating sites. Be especially careful if they promise more than friendship. Delete that request and block future ones.
  • Don’t trust astounding mail offers. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
  • Throw away any game card you get in the mail saying that you’ve won a big prize or a lottery in a contest you never entered.
  • Be careful with online purchases—and remember that you get what you pay for. “Cheap prices usually equal cheap products, or counterfeit goods,” the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre points out. “Free offers may require providing your credit card for shipping. Small tactics like these can lead to big profits for scammers.”

If you are victimized by a scammer, the centre wants to know about it and can help you. Don’t let embarrassment stop you from reporting the incident: Remember, you aren’t alone.

The bottom line: Swindlers like to target the vulnerable, but anyone—even a well-educated and sophisticated person—can be susceptible to clever come-ons.