Online shoppers in Sudbury, North Bay caught up in rising tide of e-commerce fraud
Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre in North Bay says reports of merchandise fraud surpassed 2019 total in September
This pandemic year has been one for staying home and letting your fingers do the shopping on-line and more people, including those close to home in northeastern Ontario, are finding fraudsters rising to the opportunities.
Sudbury's Paulette Lalancette says she started spending more time online as a direct result of a desire to protect her health.
"I have a history of cancer, and so heading out into public spaces is not my favourite thing to do right now," she says.
"It does cause me some anxiety to be out in public and trying to navigate through stores and stuff. And so I tend to do a lot of online shopping now, more than I ever did before."
So, confident in her computer shopping savvy, she went in search of a special sweater for her boyfriend.
Lalancette says she wanted to purchase a specific brand but found they were sold out just about everywhere.
She then searched the style number online and came up with a Canadian site that seemed to have some stock.
"So this Montreal 28 Team had stock," says Lalancette.
"I thought, oh goodness, I'll just order it from them. And I guess one of the major problems was, my boyfriend was in his office around the corner from me and I wanted to hurry up and get the order in so that he didn't see that I was ordering the sweater for him.
"And so I probably let my guard down a little bit and hurried up and hit purchase. And when I realized that it didn't send me a confirmation email in return, I thought, oh, what happened here? And so I went and looked on their website and I gave it a day to see if maybe I got a confirmation email and I didn't."
'Should have done a little more homework'
Lalancette then emailed the site but the email provided didn't work.
The charge, however, did appear on her credit card bill and another unknown charge a few weeks later.
She says she regrets her haste now, especially since she's still dealing with the consequences, and not just on her credit card.
"I think being a wise consumer, I probably should have checked out reviews for that website or for that store. It does seem like a fishy name for a website or for a store. And so, yeah, I think I probably should have done a little more homework before ordering from their site."
But Lalancette says the problems continue because her personal information — her home address and cell phone number — have been appropriated by the fraudsters, and put on another fraudulent website.
"I think that's more disturbing than, you know, having lost money and having to contact Visa and get reimbursed. That was a hassle," she says.
"This is disturbing because I feel almost solely responsible for these people being taken advantage of and your identity being used in a way that's not in your control."
Lalancette turned to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre in North Bay for help.
Jeff Thomson is a senior intelligence analyst there.
He says the twist of scammers using the victim's personal information has been known to happen.
"It's not unheard of where we see fraudsters use other victims' information. They're in the game of hiding who they actually are, where they actually are," he said.
"We've seen some online classified scams where somebody selling, say, concert tickets online and claiming to be a past victim. So it certainly wouldn't surprise me to see a website popping up using contact information from a previous victim."
Too good to be true
Like Lalancette, Allyson Roynon of North Bay was feeling the pressure to find that special item — this time for her son.
She found what she thought was the right item, a hoodie from Canadian rapper Drake's clothing company, and also was glad to receive a pop-up discount.
Roynon says it was too good to be true.
"As the four-week mark approached of having ordered it, it was supposed to be a two- to three- week timeline for delivery, I started to look into it a little bit."
She emailed the website and they sent a tracking number.
She noticed the item was being shipped from Singapore that started to ring alarm bells.
Roynon's next step was to contact Drake's company, OVO, and was told the order number that she had quoted was not traceable.
And they listed two potential knockoff sites that were not affiliated with the official site.
Roynon says she now knows that pop-ups and unbelievable discounts are warning signs, but she'll continue to shop online
"I think I'll just watch for reputable sites. I mean, there are certain ones that you can't go wrong with, you know, Amazon, Best Buy Staples, you know, your bigger organization," she says.
"I mean, I definitely thought I was ordering from the actual legitimate website because it said 'Drake official merchandise', something like that. But yeah, I will be a little bit more leery when I'm clicking on a pop-up or something like that for sure."
Recognize, reject, report
As for Thomson at the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre, he says the more shoppers, the more the scammers will take advantage — and the pandemic has created much more opportunity.
"You know, as the country went into lockdown in early- to mid-March due to COVID-19, what you saw was more people hopping online having to do groceries, just to do their routine day-to-day online shopping. So certainly that's increased the pool of victims. And it certainly had an impact in reporting on online merchandise or e-commerce type scams."
Thomson says, at end of September, there were about 2,500 reports of these types of fraud, equal to the total number of reports in 2019.
His advice to Canadians is to "recognize, reject, report."
"Recognizing starts by by realizing that the fraudsters are using social media, text messages, emails, the internet, the telephone to run their scams and to target you," he said.
"Reject starts by not reacting to these extortion or coercive demands or too-good-to-be-true deals," says Thomson.
Doing your own due diligence is key.
"Time to to review, talk to family members and friends. That's what rejection is all about — not react to these offers, these high-pressure or urgent demands.
"And then report it. Report to your local police and report to the fraud center. If you don't report, we don't know what's happening. And it certainly helps spread the word for other Canadians, and helps us to warn them as well."