OTTAWA — It begins with an early morning phone call and an urgent automated message about charges to your credit card that may be fraudulent.
The reality is it’s a scam looking to take advantage of you while you’re still groggy from sleep and your guard is down.
The problem is, sometimes your bank or credit card company really does call about possible fraudulent charges. So how are you to know the difference?
It all comes down to the questions being asked, experts say. Scammers will ask you for personal information such as account numbers and passwords, while legitimate callers will not.
According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre in North Bay, Ont., there have been 39,696 reports of fraud as of Sept. 30., impacting 18,533 victims to the tune of $67.2 million. These numbers are on track to surpass 2019’s reported fraud incidents by more than 11 per cent.
Gord Jamieson, head of risk services at Visa Canada, says Visa and the financial institutions it works with have sophisticated systems to detect possible fraud, so calls to customers about suspicious charges do happen, but they won’t ask for your card number or any other personal information.
He says they will simply identify the suspect transaction and ask if you made the charge
“These fraudsters will say they’ve identified a potential fraud transaction and then they’ll ask you for your credit card number,” Jamieson says.
If it is legitimate, he says, your bank or credit card company knows what your credit card number is and doesn’t need to ask for it.
“They don’t need you to identify it and tell them it. They don’t need your PIN number, they don’t need your three-digit code on the back or the expiry date.”
Jamieson says Visa uses artificial intelligence to rate transactions for possible fraud and can respond in different ways including declining the charge or reaching out and contacting the cardholder.
He says if you didn’t initiate the call you shouldn’t give out any personal information that your financial institution should already have because you have no idea of who you may be talking to.
“If it is your financial institution calling you and saying ‘we see a suspicious transaction’ they already know your name, your phone number, your account number,” he says.
“All they are trying to do is validate whether a transaction that occurred on your account was actually you that authorized it and that’s all they’re doing.”
Jeff Thomson, a senior RCMP intelligence analyst at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, says you need to scrutinize and confirm everything.
He says fraudsters will often use aggressive or coercive language to convince you of a need to give them the personal or financial information they are looking for urgently, but that you should slow down and take the time to hang up and contact your bank yourself.
“Walk into your branch and talk to somebody if you need to,” Thomson says.
He cautions if the call is made to your landline that fraudsters have been known to exploit the slight delay it takes to disconnect a telephone line.
If you hang up a landline telephone and then immediately pick it up again to call your bank or credit card company, you might not actually have disconnected and fraudsters can exploit this to pose as your financial institution to steal your information.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre urges anyone who has been contacted by a scammer to report it to them — even if no money was exchanged. If you do lose money, they say to contact local police as well.
“If it is not getting reported we don’t know that it is happening. Police need to know about crime that is happening in their community,” Thomson says.