While these technological improvements have been game-changers in our daily lives, scam artists increasingly take advantage of our comfort online to target us with websites impersonating legitimately registered banks and brokerage firms.
The act of “Cloning” or “Spoofing” is when fraudsters create fake websites that mimic a legitimate company’s website and information, often unbeknownst to them. These websites can even use the actual address and employee names from the legitimate company and can be promoted online through pop-up ads or found through Googling.
Before you consider conducting financial activities online, follow these key steps to avoid cloned websites and scams.
1. Avoid investments offered online or found through search engine results - Investment offers promoted through pop-up ads or found on search engine results can be fake. Be skeptical of promised attractive investment returns and take the time to do your research into the investment. Contact the bank or firm in the ad or search result using their legitimate phone number or website address listed on their registration found on the Alberta Securities Commissions registration list for Alberta-based firms and institutions and the Canadian Securities Administrators National Registration Search for those based in another province or territory in Canada. By law, firms and individuals offering investments to you must be registered in the province you live in.
2. Pay attention to the details - Before you provide any information, money, or log in to the website, make sure you have spelled the website URL correctly. If you found the website online or clicked on an ad, look out for oddities, including spelling and grammatical mistakes, incorrect area codes, unusual logos, stock photography, and chat pop-ups asking for personal information such as an email address.
3. Be wary of unusual forms of payment – Fraudsters may try and correspond with you over social media or ask you to download an app for your phone in order to receive details of the investment offer. They may also request payment through a website or an app in the form of cryptocurrency or e-transfers. These are red flags of fraud and legitimate investments are never conducted over social media and typically do not require payment in digital assets or wire transfers.
4. Be cautious of fraudsters posing as representatives – Fraudsters may impersonate actual investment professionals, using their names, job titles, and even fraudulent credentials to offer various financial products and services over the phone and online. To further enhance this deception, fraudsters will even falsify documents, including particular statements or trade commissions and may even direct victims to check the firm’s registration or incorporation details. While the legitimate bank or firm is registered, you are not talking to an actual representative employed by them. Compare the website's contact details with the contact details listed on the registration for the firm on the ASC registration list or CSA National Registration Search and contact the number listed in its registration to verify that you're talking to a real representative.
5. Report recovery room scams – Fraudsters often target those who have lost money with an investment scam, claiming that they will be able to retrieve their money for a fee. They may also say there is a technical issue or tax fee and request more money from the victim to retrieve their funds. If you are contacted by someone offering to recover your investments or money, keep all records of communication with the individual and report it to the ASC.
Fraudsters are continually looking for new ways to deceive and imitate the registered banks and brokerage firms online. By staying vigilant and following the steps above, you can confidently recognize, avoid and report bad actors.