The growing popularity of smartphones and open Wi-Fi networks are making Canadians more vulnerable to online fraud and other forms of cybercrime, security experts say.

A global report released this week by security software firm Symantec Corp. says the cost of cybercrime in Canada has risen in the past 12 months to $3 billion US.

The report estimates seven million Canadians fell victim to cybercrime in the past 12 months, with offences ranging from bank or credit card fraud to identity theft.

"Cybercrime this year has doubled from last year … the individual cost per Canadian has risen as well," Lynn Hargrove, Symantec's Canadian director of consumer solutions, said Wednesday.

The average direct cost of cybercrime per victim in Canada is about $372 US, according to the report.

'I trusted the guy'

In one recent case, Josh Goodman of Winnipeg went to the online classifieds website Kijiji to buy tickets for a couple of NHL games this season.

Goodman, 20, said an Alberta-based seller offered him four tickets for $700, and he agreed to send the money through an Interac email transfer.

Stay safe

Symantec offers tips on online safety: 

  • Use different, complex passwords for each of your accounts and change them regularly.
  • Protect mobile devices with passwords or passcodes.
  • Use a separate credit card for online shopping, ideally with a low limit of perhaps $500.
  • Download security software for mobile devices.

Experts also warn against shopping or banking on public, unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

"Online buying, you know, you always got to be careful but … I trusted the guy a little bit, and I signed up for it," he told CBC News on Monday.

"It was through my bank [so] I thought it would be, you know, pretty trustworthy."

However, the tickets never arrived. Goodman said the seller disappeared.

"As soon as I sent the money, he just cut off communication. I tried to call, tried to text — nothing," he said.

A Statistics Canada report of cybercrime victims released in June found that high-income, highly educated Canadians were the most common victims of online credit card and bank fraud as of 2009.

Mobile devices being targeted

Cybercrime is most commonly perpetrated through computer viruses and other malware, or via online scams and phishing, in which fraudulent emails are sent asking for personal information, according to Hargrove

Cybercriminals are becoming more efficient and sophisticated, and they're increasingly targeting people's mobile devices, said Hargrove.

"We see a definite trend towards mobility — tablets, smartphones," she said.

Michael Legarry, an information security professional based in Winnipeg, said the latest forms of cybercrime can involve a "hybrid attack."

"Attackers understand that we're logged into multiple systems at any given time. You could be on Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, your iTunes accounts all at once," he explained.

"So if an attacker can trick you into doing something on your web browser, they have access to all your online accounts. So we're seeing a lot more sophisticated attacks. They're designed to take money from you quickly."

Such attacks can happen quickly because many people connect their credit card numbers to their various online accounts, Legarry said.

"We are carrying a tiny computer around in our pockets," he said. "All the things we did on our laptop or workstation over the last decade, we now need to do on our phones."

As well, Legarry said smartphone and tablet users should research the apps they're downloading to make sure they're not malware.