Staying safe from online and phone scams

March is fraud prevention month. Learn more about how you can stay safe from online and phone scams.

Woman uses tablet
Originally published in the Spring 2023 issue of our In the Loop newsletter.

Many of us are spending more time online than ever before. Logging on for online shopping, paying bills, and connecting with friends and family is part of our lifestyle. If we are spending so much time online, how can we ensure we’re doing it safely?

Dawn Thomas, Seniors’ Safety Coordinator for Digby and area Seniors’ Safety Program has some answers for us. Dawn and the other Seniors’ Safety Coordinators across the province work in partnership with the RCMP and local policing agencies to ensure seniors are safe at home for longer. One of the areas they focus on is online safety and fraud and scam prevention.

Scams come to us through phone, email, door to door, mail and social media. It is important that we become educated on which scams are out there, how to use the internet safely and take steps to protect our identity, especially for seniors and those who are living with dementia.

“Right now, one of the most popular scams in Nova Scotia is the iTunes and Google Play card scam,” says Dawn. “You receive a call, and they say it’s the bank and they want you to go out and buy some iTunes cards to help someone in need.”

In reality, the cards are being sent to a scammer and not to someone in need. They request that you purchase gift cards instead of giving cash because they are harder to trace.

“The other popular scam right now is merchandise scams,” says Dawn. “People claim to be selling cars, animals and rental properties and ask you to put down a deposit but there really isn’t anything for sale.”

This type of scam is common on Facebook Marketplace or Kijiji. Look out for brand new accounts, spelling errors and prices that may seem too good to be true. Always see the product in-person before purchasing.

“We also see extortion scams,” says Dawn. “You think it’s the CRA calling, and they threaten that you haven’t paid your taxes, and they want your social insurance number and make threats to call the police.”

Remember that the government agencies like the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) are more likely to contact you via mail than over the phone. If you’re unsure, hang up and call the agency directly.

While phone scams are very common, targeting people online is becoming more frequent. All these scams can be frightening, and the scammers can be very persuasive. Ideally, if you get a call, text, or email, don’t share numbers or personal information. Have someone help you do your research and call the company directly to see if they are who they say they are.

It’s okay to use your devices or the internet in public, such as at the library, but it’s important to be vigilant. Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) when on public wifi, be careful of who may be able to see your screen, and make sure you lock your devices if you need to walk away from them.

“We talk a lot about what is safe to like and share,” says Dawn. “It’s important to know that your activity leaves a digital footprint. The internet is watching and assessing what they think you’re going to click on and share.”

The internet is a huge part of our lives and we shouldn’t be afraid to use it, but should be aware of the risks.

“A good tip is to look at the lock icon in the corner of your search bar,” says Dawn. “If the lock is open, it is not a safe site. If the lock is closed, you’re good to give it a whirl.”

Cyber safety and internet security is tricky even for those of us who are tech-savvy. When someone is less comfortable with technology, or their memory or judgment is impaired, it is important for caregivers to work with them to do things like online banking safely.

“We also talk about safe passwords and how often you should change them,” says Dawn. “Passwords should be secure and include things like symbols, numbers, and capital letters.”

With education and support from family, we can do our best to ensure everyone has a safe online experience. There are lots of resources to help you learn about internet security. Families should stay involved with what seniors are doing online and caregivers can work with those you support to help keep their identity safe.

For more information and tips click here.