Avoiding back-to-school scams: Tips and Tricks From TELUS

The back-to-school season is a prime time for fraudsters to target students and families as they gear up for the year. From scholarship scams, to fraudulent websites to acquire personal information, and even the sharing of back-to-school photos online, Canadians may be more susceptible to fall victim than they think. To help you to protect yourself, I did an interview with Leigh Tynan, Director of TELUS Online Security who was kind enough to provide tips and advice on this front:

  1. What is the current state of cybercrime in Canada? 

Fraud is on the rise — losses reported to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre reached an all-time high of $531 million in 2022, a 38 per cent increase from the previous year. That’s with only an estimated five per cent of victims actually filing a report, so the losses are likely much higher. Our lives have become increasingly digital and fraudsters are continuously looking to capitalize on that, finding new ways to scam Canadians. 

  1. What risks in particular do you feel Canadians are more susceptible to during back-to-school season? 

The back-to-school season can be a prime time for cybercrime given the increase of sharing our personal and financial information. This includes buying laptops, school supplies, clothes and books online. Plus, university students are likely getting a credit card for the first time or opening up a bank account in their own name.

Whenever we share our personal information, we risk that information being exposed. Identity thieves can use this information to access our accounts or impersonate us in things like credit applications. 

  1. Why do you feel it is important to stay up to date on cybersecurity during this time?

While scams used to be easy to spot, tactics have become increasingly believable—scammers will take the time to browse your social media accounts in order to impersonate someone you know, with the goal of tricking you into revealing sensitive personal info. Cybercriminals are also using technology like A.I. to evolve their tactics. 

It’s important to take various measures to help protect our identity. You should be suspicious if the offer seems too good to be true, it comes from an unfamiliar email domain, you’re being asked to share personal information or you’re prompted to ‘click’ to make a payment. Scammers will often put pressure on their victims and are getting very targeted with their approach. Take the time to carefully review the information at hand, even if it seems relevant to you. 

Services like TELUS Online Security will actually notify you if your info has been found on the dark web or if suspicious activity occurs in your credit file. Check if your personal information has been exposed on the dark web with a free scan at telus.com/DarkWeb. It’s a preview of a valuable feature from TELUS Online Security that detects and alerts subscribers whenever their information may have been leaked.

  1. The digital landscape is constantly evolving – what are some of the most common scams that Canadians should be aware of right now, specifically those surrounding the back-to-school season? 

Scams have become increasingly prevalent and sophisticated. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has a great list of the top 10 frauds targeting Canadians.  A few of note include:

  • Spear phishing: when a fraudster poses as a trusted source to convince victims to divulge confidential data. It used to be easy to identify—with emails or texts riddled with spelling errors and unnatural requests—but scams are getting more sophisticated. Social media is another prime opportunity for phishing: for instance, fraudsters can easily create a fake Facebook profile pretending to be one of your friends, and then attempt to convince you to share private data using information that’s readily available, and often public, on social media.
  • Shopping scams: when scammers set up websites offering low-cost items like school supplies. Consumers enter their credit card information and complete their purchases, then the items they order never arrive. The scammers, though, now have their credit card information and can use it to rack up unauthorized purchases.
  • Scholarship scams: when cybercriminals ask for a small scholarship application fee to collect your information. While the fee might be small, profits add up for the scammer.  Another common example could be receiving an email notifying you that you’ve won a scholarship but must pay a redemption fee. 
  • Personal Information scams: when a scammer pretends to be from a business, government agency, bank or utility company and asks you to verify your personal information. They may request your name, address, birth date, or account information, then use it to impersonate you. 

It’s important to note that no organization is immune to a data breach. Beware of suspicious messages and requests for information. 

  1. How can Canadians educate themselves on cybercrime and security, and what measures can they take to better protect themselves?

I always recommend educating yourself as best you can. We wouldn’t consider leaving our homes without locking the doors, so why wouldn’t we treat our most valuable possession—our identity—the same way? The good news is that there are many educational resources to help us navigate the internet more safely, including the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and TELUS Wise, a free digital literacy education program that offers informative workshops and resources for Canadians of all ages. 

Other ways to help protect yourself include:

  • Creating complex, unique passwords for every login. 
  • Using a VPN while on unsecured networks like public Wi-Fi, especially while sharing sensitive info online. 
  • Ensuring your Wi-Fi network is protected by encryption. 
  • Locking down the privacy settings for your social media accounts and being careful who you let in.
  • Monitoring your financial accounts to spot any unauthorized transactions. 

For better peace of mind, consider comprehensive protection like TELUS Online Security, a multi-layered solution that helps protect your identity and connected devices. Not only does it help prevent threats with 24/7 global threat monitoring and a secure VPN, it also alerts you when you might be at greater risk. If you fall victim to identity theft, you’d be paired with a dedicated specialist to support you throughout the restoration process, and you’d be covered for up to $1 million in related expenses. Plus, it offers 24/7 live support with a team that specializes in cyber safety assistance. 

  1. Say someone falls victim to a scam – what steps should they take to mitigate as much risk as possible? 

If you think you may have been targeted by a scam or hack, stop all communication with the scammer and report it to your local police and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. You should also notify your financial institutions and businesses where your information may have been compromised. Additionally, change your passwords and strengthen the security of your accounts, such as using two-factor authentication. In today’s world, where so much of our information is shared digitally, it’s critical to take these measures to help minimize the consequences of being scammed or hacked.

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