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Financial planning tips

February 19, 2016

Five ways to avoid phone fraud

After filling out a ballot to win a free vacation, I got a call saying I was the lucky winner — or so I thought.

It started as a draw for a free trip, but it ended in identity theft. The caller was very persistent about getting my personal information; if I didn't co-operate, I would lose my prize. I hesitantly complied - and that's how I became a victim of telephone fraud.

Telephone scams can be difficult to detect. The individuals operating the scams are professional con artists whose business is obtaining confidential information such as banking details, credit card number, social insurance number, date of birth, driver's licence number and home address from their unsuspecting victims. They will go to great lengths to appear legitimate; the scammer who called me even emailed me fake travel tickets.

Following these five tips can help you avoid becoming a victim:

1. Verify who is on the other end of the phone.

Do you recognize the company name? If so, does it seem like a legitimate request? Scammers will often pose as employees of a known company in hopes of gaining your trust faster. Most legitimate companies will be more than willing to provide you with more information and allow you to research their request or offer further information. If you feel uncomfortable, don't be afraid to hang up and contact the company on your own. For example, tell a caller claiming to be from your bank that you will go into your local branch to learn about the offer, and end the call.

2. Be skeptical.

You've likely heard this one before: "You have won a once-in-a-lifetime trip!" How could you be so lucky? The truth is, you're probably not. You and thousands of others are probably receiving the same phone call and will likely be asked to provide some form of personal or financial information. In cases like this, always remember that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. You should never have to provide your financial information to claim a prize.

3. Don't let yourself be hurried.

Warning signs should go up as soon as you feel you are being rushed into making a decision. A legitimate offer or request will still be available after you hang up the phone. Rush tactics pressure those being called to give up personal information by making them feel disoriented. Scam artists prey on vulnerability and distraction. Take some time to research the request further and don't be afraid to ask questions. If the caller is persistent, this should raise red flags and prompt you to hang up.

4. Get everything in writing.

Regardless of to whom you are speaking, ask for the information in writing to review before you take any action. This can be a letter, brochure, or an email with a call-back number. Take the information that the caller has provided to the local branch of the institution the caller claims to be from, and find out whether the caller is legitimate. If not, you can help to make the institution aware of the fraud and report it.

5. Keep personal information to yourself.

You risk identity theft when you disclose any personal information on the phone. Equipped with your stolen information, fraud artists can take out credit cards and loans in your name, gain access to your medical records, incur taxes and financial penalties on your behalf, mislead your employer, request government documents in your name, destroy your credit rating and even use your identity to commit criminal fraud affecting other people. If you are asked for any personal information over the phone, ensure you take the time to thoroughly research and discuss the request with family and friends before taking any action.

If you suspect that you may have experienced telephone fraud, do not hesitate to report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (toll-free 1-888-495-8501) or your local police.

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