How 'clone firms' scam online investors with sophisticated websites and ads

·2 min read
Known as 'brand hijacking' scams or 'clone firms,' the scams target victims through online searches for investment products, the RCMP's integrated market enforcement team said Friday.  (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images - image credit)
Known as 'brand hijacking' scams or 'clone firms,' the scams target victims through online searches for investment products, the RCMP's integrated market enforcement team said Friday. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images - image credit)

Scammers are impersonating banks in an effort to con people into transferring them funds, the Alberta RCMP's integrated market enforcement team (IMET) warns.

Known as "brand hijacking" scams or "clone firms," IMET says scams are targeting victims through online searches for investment products.

Top search engine results can include advertisements linked to fake websites where victims are prompted to provide their contact information, and then scammers contact them while posing as representatives of brand name investment firms or financial institutions.

As a result, victims buy into the fake investment products, trust scammers with their personal finances and send them money via wire transfers and bank drafts.

"This particular fraud trend is very advanced as scammers are spoofing not only real institutions, but also real employees at these institutions," said Sgt. Lloyd Schoepp with IMET, the specialized unit under the RCMP's federal policing program that investigates and deters market fraud.

Tips to avoid online investment scams

According to IMET, the impersonations include using names, job titles and even fraudulent credentials of actual investment professionals.

Meanwhile, the websites and materials provided to victims are high-quality and often identical to those of well-known investment firms.

IMET said it is working closely with the Alberta Securities Commission and other Canadian securities regulators "to protect investors from this type of crime and enhance confidence in our country's capital markets."

However, it also recommends the following tips to avoid an online investment scam:

  • Avoid advertisements found through search engine results, and only use verified websites.

  • Alternatively, contact a registered investment dealer directly to speak with a representative about your finances.

  • Be skeptical of highly competitive or attractive investment returns.

  • Research and compare offers. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

  • Never feel pressured to make an investment. Do your due diligence to determine whether or not investment products are legitimate.

  • Watch for subtle variances in email and internet domains used by scammers that, upon closer inspection, do not match those of legitimate investment companies.

Those who believe they may be the victim of a scam are encouraged by RCMP to report it to local law enforcement and to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre online or by calling 1-888-495-8501.

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