Canada's No. 1 scam: 10,000 nearly duped by dangerous type of fraud

If you’re not someone who is particularly concerned about being a victim of fraud, you may want to be a bit more cautious. New data from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) reveals that Canadians were scammed out of more than $96 million last year.

According to the CAFC, the centre received 46,465 fraud reports in 2019, with the highest number of reports related to extortion, totalling 10,278 recorded incidents.

The top 10 most reported frauds that affected Canadians in 2019 are:

  1. Extortion (10,278 reports, 2,101 victims)

  2. Personal Information (7,642 reports, 5,262 victims)

  3. Phishing (5,053 reports, 1,384 victims)

  4. Service (3,547 reports, 1,779 victims)

  5. Merchandise (2,452 reports, 1,759 victims)

  6. Sale of merchandise (2,211 reports, 1,526 victims)

  7. Job (1,702 reports, 682 victims)

  8. Prize (1,200 reports, 318 victims)

  9. Bank Investigator (1,083 reports, 366 victims)

  10. Romance (975 reports, 682 victims)

The top 10 frauds that affected Canadians in 2019, based on dollar loss, are:

  1. Spear Phishing ($21,404,827.08)

  2. Romance ($18,327,896.93)

  3. Investments ($10,719,376.29)

  4. Extortion ($9,233,115.11)

  5. Service ($7,158,372.64)

  6. Prize ($3,386,269.00)

  7. Bank Investigator ($3,237,667.43)

  8. Sale of merchandise ($2,686,904.31)

  9. Merchandise ($2,593,007.04)

  10. Timeshare ($2,477,196.56)

Despite the recorded data, it’s estimated that less than five per cent of fraud victims actually report incidents to the department. 

According to the CAFC, extortion is defined as a situation where “someone unlawfully obtains money, property or services from a person, entity, or institution through coercion.” These scams include bomb threats, hitman, hostage ransomware and sextortion situations.

Personal information fraud is when a scammer acts as a business, government agency, bank, or utility company, and asks the victims to verify personal information.

Phishing fraud is conducted over email. The scammers will often send a message, pretending to be a known business, including banks and subscription services like Netflix, and encourage someone to update their account information. Spear phishing, by contrast, spoofs the email of a legitimate contact, including business executives and payroll contacts within a company.

RELATED: The top tax scams to watch for in 2020

Romance scams have been particularly prevalent with the rise of online dating. In these scenarios, the fraudster gains the trust of the victims through a virtual relationship in order to scam them out of money.

“Using fake profiles on social media, and through popular dating apps, scammers would gain the trust of their victims over a period of time before stealing an average of $28,000 per victim,” the RCMP warned last week.

“Never trust anyone you have not met in person, who is quick to profess their love, or who claims to live nearby but is working overseas. These are all telltale signs the person on the other end may not be who they claim.”

How to protect yourself

The CAFC is urging the public to take a number of precautions to stay protected from scammers. The recommendations include:

  • Create strong passwords for each of your accounts and use multi-factor authentication.

  • Update the privacy settings attached to your social network accounts.

  • Be familiar with the terms of service, look for a fraud protection policy and know how payment methods work before using them.

  • Never accept money and send money to a third party. You may, unknowingly, be participating in money laundering which is a criminal offence.

  • If something doesn’t seem right, ask someone else about it.

  • Do not trust the information on your call display because it can easily be manipulated.

  • Do not provide your personal or financial information on demand.

  • Do not open an attachment or click a link in an unsolicited email or text message.

If you think you or someone you know has been a victim of fraud, contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) at 1-888-495-8501 or report online at

You can also the #Take5 hashtag and tag @canantifraud on social media to encourage people to take five minutes to think about any messages before reacting, to question whether it may be a scam. The CAFC is also urging the public to use the  #Tell2 hashtag to encourage people share what they know about frauds to keep more people informed.