Vancouver Fraud Prevention Month Launch Event
Remarks by Nicola Pfeifer, Senior Competition Law Officer
Fraud Prevention Month 2019
March 1st, 2019
Vancouver, British Columbia
(As prepared for delivery)
Thank you Danielle, for that kind introduction. Thank you also to our hosts today, the Better Business Bureau of Mainland British Columbia. And our partners: the Vancouver Police Department, the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre, the Bank of Canada, and the BC Securities Commission. And of course, thanks to all of you for joining us today to help us launch Fraud Prevention Month.
This is, in fact, a landmark year, as 2019 marks the 15th anniversary of Fraud Prevention Month in Canada. A lot has changed, and yet, so much has stayed the same. The last decade-and-a-half have brought historic digital change. And while scammers are indeed using cutting-edge digital tools to cheat Canadians, at their core, many of today’s online fraud schemes bear a striking resemblance to their analogue predecessors. The scams are the same, but the mechanisms are new. I like to think of the Internet as a powerful tool in the fraud toolbox. Powerful enough that it is expanding the reach of fraudulent crime well beyond the traditionally vulnerable consumer groups of seniors, children and new Canadians.
But before I get into that, lets’ first cast our gazes back to 2004, when the Fraud Prevention Forum launched Canada’s very first Fraud Prevention Month. We’ve accomplished a lot since then. We’ve produced countless videos to give people the tools they need to recognize, reject and report scams. We’ve taken part in dozens of events like this one. We’ve published our Fraud Facts Report, all kinds of guidance to businesses, and of course, a highlight for me, two editions of the Little Black Book of Scams. We reached over 40 million people through our Fraud Prevention Month campaign last year. We’ve issued nearly 30 alerts since May 2016, with the aim of helping consumers identify and avoid common scams. We also continue to prosecute fraudsters. Almost one year ago, for example, our enforcement actions against two telemarketing operations in Montréal led to a number of guilty pleas.
While many scams haven’t changed much over time, the Internet has given scammers a much broader reach than telemarketing, television or print ever could. Not only are they able to reach more people, but they are reaching different kinds of people. Traditionally, scammers have targeted populations we consider vulnerable – children, seniors, new Canadians. But, almost everyone uses the Internet, so we are all vulnerable.
While scam artists continue to reach their victims by telephone and in person, they have also latched on to online platforms, particularly social media, to target a new demographic: Millennials and Generation Zed. Despite being Internet-savvy, Millennials and Generation Zed have such an outsized presence online that they have become natural targets for fraudsters.
Let’s look at subscription traps as an example. Subscription traps often appear on popular social media sites. They may be disguised as a referral from a Facebook friend or a pop-up “survey.” The lure? A “free” product, or perhaps a “free” trial. All you have to do is pay the shipping and handling on your credit card!
But here’s the trap. When you sign up for the “free trial” and provide your credit card number, you are also agreeing to regular shipments of expensive products, unless you have read the onerous terms and conditions, which are often tough to find and understand. And you may have unintentionally authorized monthly charges on your credit card. Once you’re in, it’s difficult to get out of this trap. This is a sophisticated scam that assumes we will not see or read the fine print, or terms and conditions. So, as this example demonstrates, as we make the shift away from the analogue world, it’s important that we are all vigilant.
And now, I think I’ve said more than my fair share here, so let me end by congratulating the Fraud Prevention Forum on 15 years of educating consumers and preventing fraud. Indeed, a lot has changed since 2004, but the goal remains the same — to help Canadians recognize, reject and report fraud.
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