Spending More Time Online Due To COVID-19, Canadians Feel increasingly Vulnerable To Fraudsters

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Stay-at-home orders and quarantine restrictions have caused many Canadians to spend more time online buying groceries, arranging curbside pick-ups and ordering restaurant deliveries.  This has caused them to be more attuned and concerned about the threat of fraud and identity theft according to a recent consumer survey conducted by Equifax Canada.

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About eight-in-ten (78 per cent) surveyed Canadians indicated that they feel vulnerable as a target for fraud online, a six-point increase compared to the same survey in 2020 (72 per cent). More than half (54 per cent) said they also feel vulnerable to fraudsters when they’re ‘on-the-go’ (e.g., using public WiFi, ATMs, etc.), which is an increase of eight points compared to last year (46 per cent). The survey also revealed that women are more likely to express a feeling of vulnerability versus men as a target of fraud on-the-go (57 per cent vs. 50 per cent) and at-home (37 per cent vs. 28 per cent). Likewise, Canadians age 55 and older expressed feeling more vulnerable compared to adults age 55 and younger ‘on-the-go’ (60 per cent vs. 50 per cent) and ‘at-home’ (39 per cent vs. 28 per cent).

“Fraudsters and identity thieves are always looking to take advantage of a crisis,” said Julie Kuzmic, Director of Consumer Advocacy, Equifax Canada. “It’s understandable to feel vulnerable given these difficult times, but we must remain vigilant in the fight against fraud and identity theft. Anyone feeling vulnerable to this type of crime can alleviate some anxiety by regularly checking their credit reports online for suspicious activity.”

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COVID-19 and Fraud

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, eight-in-ten (80 per cent) Canadians say they have embraced at least one of the following practices, such as ordering online, curbside pickup (41 per cent), in-store self check-out (38 per cent), in-store pickup of online orders (38 per cent), and restaurant delivery (35 per cent). With respect to helping prevent fraud or identity theft, 73 per cent of Canadians have made or noticed at least one change due to the pandemic.

Changes in activity include:

I’m reviewing my credit card/bank statements more closely for signs of fraud 34 %
I’m screening my calls more to avoid calls from fraudsters 29 %
I’m changing my online passwords more frequently 24 %
I have checked my credit report more frequently 19 %
I have checked my credit score more frequently 17 %
I have noticed more suspicious or fraudulent links in my social media feeds 15 %
My company has briefed me on how best to avoid fraud or identity theft 5 %

“Criminals are probing for weaknesses, whether it’s online, by phone or in-person,” added Kuzmic. “It’s encouraging that some people are taking fraud and identity theft more seriously, but we need to do more to educate ourselves to help prevent this sort of crime before it happens. In particular, we continue to be concerned about younger adults, many of whom are still not doing simple things like changing computer passwords or double-checking financial statements.”

Millennials at Risk of Identity Theft

Based on the survey results, young adults continue to lag in their understanding about the risks of fraud and identity theft:

Survey Statements Millennials (18-34)
in Agreement
Rest of Survey Respondents
(35+) in Agreement
If someone committed fraud in my name or with my identity, I would not know what to do to fix it. 57 per cent 49 per cent
I’m not a target of fraudsters because I don’t have enough money. 30 per cent 23 per cent
Identity theft happens to other people, it’s not likely to happen to me 19 per cent 8 per cent

However, adults age 35 and older are significantly more likely to have taken one or more of the following actions in an effort to protect their personal data over the past 12 months:

Avoided answering calls from unknown numbers 46 per cent 62 per cent
Double-checked credit card or bank statements 40 per cent 61 per cent
Shredded personal and/or financial documents 28 per cent 57 per cent
Updated my security passwords 31 per cent 52 per cent
Shared less about myself on social media 26 per cent 37 per cent

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), the central agency tracking fraud and identity theft, received 101,483 fraud reports involving nearly $160 million in reported losses in 2020. Moreover, 67,294 of the reports were from Canadian consumers and businesses, which reported losses totalling more than $104.2 million. It is estimated that fewer than 5 per cent of victims of fraud file a report with the CAFC.

“If you ever become a victim of fraud or identity theft, then you should tell your family, friends, neighbours and co-workers about your experience,” said Jeff Thomson, a senior RCMP intelligence analyst with the CAFC. “We need more people to report fraud. If it happens to you, report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, your financial institutions, credit bureaus and police. By sharing your story, you may prevent someone else from becoming a victim.”

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