Police warn of fake ServiceOntario text messages offering refunds for licence plate stickers

Police are warning Ontarians of a new text message scam that claims to give a licence plate sticker refund to residents, weeks before they're supposed to be send out by the provincial government.

Scam comes less than a week after government's announcement to scrap stickers

Peel Regional Police are warning the public that texts claiming to be sent by ServiceOntario for a refund on licence plate sticker fees are not authentic. (Peel Regional Police/Twitter)

Police are warning Ontarians of a new text message scam that claims to give a licence plate sticker refund to residents, weeks before they're supposed to be sent out by the provincial government.

The texts, which claim to be sent by ServiceOntario, were seen circulating social media Sunday evening and come with a link that would supposedly give someone a refund for the soon-to-be defunct licence plate stickers. 

The scam comes less than one week after the Ford government announced it would scrap vehicle licence plate stickers and their renewal fees, effective March 13.

Peel Regional Police says the text scam is being sent to many residents and are warning the public not to engage.

The province also says it's aware of the phishing scam and is working with the Ontario Provincial Police and other law enforcement partners, says Ministry of Government and Consumer Services spokesperson Sebastian Skamski.

"Individuals should not open or click on any links as this message is not authorized by ServiceOntario and is a scam," wrote Skamski in an email.

Returned fees will typically range from $60 to $240, dependent on when you last renewed your sticker and how much you paid at the time.

ServiceOntario will not be contacting residents with links for a refund, Skamski said. Instead, Ontarians will receive their refunds by cheque through the mail in late March through April. 

Scam came 'almost instantly'

According to the non-profit KnowledgeFlow Cybersafety Foundation, fraudsters can take weeks to craft a scam together after identifying a timely event to exploit. But this time, this scam was crafted in a matter of days.

"No doubt, it confused a lot of people," the organization's co-founder, Claudiu Popa, told CBC News. "And it's very difficult to get the figures around just how many people would have clicked on the fraudulent link."

Claudiu Popa is a co-founder of educational non-profit, KnowledgeFlow Cybersafety Foundation. (John Badcock/CBC)

Popa says people should never click an unsolicited link, as it could infect a mobile device or computer with spyware or trick users into giving up vulnerable information such as credit card numbers and passwords.

He says this scam fits within a growing trend of cyberattacks.

In 2020, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre logged 101,483 fraud reports involving nearly $160 million in reported losses. It's estimated that fewer than five per cent of victims file a fraud report. In the first month of 2022, the centre reported that Canadians lost $34 million lost to fraud alone.

The Ministry is asking anyone who have received the scam message or opened the link to report it to local police or call the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501.