Fraud Awareness Month brings focus to online scamming

Police in Halifax have initiated Fraud Awareness Month to educate Haligonians about the danger of online fraud.

By Ken Wallingford

Be cautious of emails with a generic greeting, forged links, request for personal information and a sense of urgency (Ken Wallingford photo)

In light of increasing reports of online fraud, Halifax Regional Police have declared this month Fraud Awareness Month to educate citizens across the Halifax region.

“Our fraud unit investigates crime in a wide range of frauds, encompassing a lot of areas,” says Constable Brian Palmeter.

This week, police are focusing on phishing: the activity of defrauding a person’s online account by posing as a legitimate company.

According to Palmeter, the police get a lot of calls concerning emails asking for credit card numbers and other personal information. Palmeter says they get as many calls from citizens  reporting fraudulent emails as those who have had personal information stolen from them.

“People are starting to become a lot more aware,” says Palmeter. “We put advisories out whenever we are made aware of these situations.”

All month, police will write in community newspapers, discussing different issues involving fraud.

Employees at Scotiabank on Quinpool Road are also doing their part to ensure their customers are educated.

“Never disclose information via email unless you’ve dealt with someone from the branch by email,” says customer service representative Colin MacAskill. “We will never ask you for your account information because we already have it.”

MacAskill says that the staff is well trained in the matter of phishing. Usually staff can handle any situation that arises between a client and a fraudulent email. He says that if the staff is unsure of a situation, then police do have to get involved.

When University of King’s College student Dea Masotti Payne opened her emails one day she noticed an message from her bank. The email asked for her account number and other personal information.

“The email was really well constructed. It had the bank logo on it, and the email addressed me by my first and last name,” says Payne.

Payne became weary of the email when she saw what information it was asking for, so she called her bank.

“As a student, I have to be extremely conscious of my money and how much I have and spend,” says Payne. “I knew, as soon as it asked for my information, that it was not really from my bank.”

The worst part about phishing is that it can come from anywhere in the world.

David Green, System Manager of technical support in the Dalhousie University Faculty of Computer Engineering, says that it’s hard to trace where an email comes from. He explains there are software products that can act as protection from some things, but more important are education on the issue and common sense.

“The attacks are on all kinds of people, wherever they can get the email address or list of email addresses,” says Green.

So, what’s the solution to phishing?

“There isn’t a whole lot we can do except be educated and aware of it,” says Green. “Use common sense. Many people are so comfortable with the Internet that they forget to think before hitting return to send a reply.”