Online crime spikes in Winnipeg and Manitoba: Statistics Canada

Data released Tuesday show a 160 per cent increase in cybercrime reports from 2015 to 2016, with the number of cases increasing from 123 to 321 in Winnipeg.

Federal agency reports more than 160% increase in cybercrime from 2015 to 2016

Reports of online crime are up in Winnipeg and Manitoba, Statistics Canada reports. (Reuters)

Reports of online crime are up in Winnipeg and Manitoba according to the latest numbers from Statistics Canada.

Data released Tuesday show a 160 per cent increase in cybercrime reports from 2015 to 2016, with the number of cases increasing from 123 to 321 in Winnipeg.

That increase is dramatically higher than the national average of about 34 per cent.

"I would probably say that those numbers are probably a little low compared to what is actually going on out there," said Sgt. Shaun Veldman, of the Winnipeg Police Service's financial crime unit. "People are somewhat embarrassed or hesitant to make a report to the police when it comes to being defrauded online."

The numbers include incidents where a computer or person was targeted online or a computer or the internet was used to commit the crime, and only those that were reported to police.

"I would predict that things would continue to get worse," said Veldman, adding there's increasing sophistication in criminals' ability to cover their tracks, and the variety of people targeted by the scams is widening.

"There are a lot of our younger people that are out looking for jobs or wanting to sell something online or whether they're looking for love online – there's a lot of romance scams that happen as well. It runs the gamut," said Veldman.

"People who think they know what they're doing — 'Yeah, well I grew up immersed in technology, and I totally understand it' — there are some very sophisticated scams that will target those people as well."

The number of cases of police-reported online crime rose dramatically in 2016, according to new numbers from Statistics Canada. (CBC)

One particularly troubling area, he said, is "spear phishing," in which businesses are targeted for information that can then be used to get cash.

Veldman said in some cases, employees are emailed by people posing as the business's supplier, claiming banking information has changed.

"Before you know it, a large amount of money has been sent out, and that seems to be a trend around the world," said Veldman.

This summer, a university in Edmonton unwittingly paid scammers $11.8 million due to fraudulent emails claiming there was a banking change with one of their vendors.

Veldman said businesses in Winnipeg and Manitoba are being targeted as well.

He said scammers are getting "more used to what they can get away with" online, and they're using different methods to collect cash from victims, including using Bitcoin rather than wire transfers.

'They usually don't fall victim a second time'

Officers forward all their reports to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, which tracks what's happening in Canada and liaises with forces across the country and internationally.

"What will happen sometimes is we'll get a request because there's been an arrest in Europe and they do a work back of where did the money come from, and they'll find out there's victims in Winnipeg and victims in different parts of Canada, and we're able to contribute to that prosecution," said Veldman.

The issue needs to be talked about more widely to help people avoid falling victim to fraudsters, he said.

"Oftentimes when the report is made to us, usually it's too late to do anything about it," he said. "They usually don't fall victim a second time, but then oftentimes it's too late."

He said if something seems off — for example, if a person is asking for money in an unusual situation or they're asking for money to be transferred in an unusual way — talk to a friend or co-worker and get a second opinion.

Anyone who is dealing with someone they don't know online should be cautious, especially when money is involved, Veldman said.