Scams and frauds continue to make headlines in southern Manitoba.

March is Fraud Prevention Month, an annual campaign aimed at helping people recognize, reject and report fraud.

One of the more recent scams to hit the Pembina Valley is a bogus text message that tells drivers they've been caught speeding.

"We get anything from romance scams to a recent one on hydro where people are being contacted asking for hydro payments," says Brent Berzuk, Chief Risk Officer for Access Credit Union. "I know people that have had late Shaw payment emails that are scams. It's a widespread approach that the scammers use to blanket out emails or texts to a large population. You're always going to get a couple people on the hook that are willing to correspond."

Staff is trained to recognize red flags that indicate a member may have been scammed, said Berzuk.

"We try and make sure our frontline service representatives, whether that be in branch or through our Member Solutions Center contact center, are well aware of some of the red flags or scams that are common now."

An intra-net portal allows staff to share circumstances of fraud attempts, keeping all branches alert to potential scams.

"It raises awareness in the area that there's potential scams. I expect, since we're into March, tax season, we're likely going to see an uptick of CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) related type scams soon. We're going to get text messages and stuff saying you have taxes overdue. There's always the rotating bevy of scams that the fraudsters certainly have at their disposal."

Berzuk says, typically, those scammers want payments in cash, or they want victims to withdraw cash and deposit it into a Bitcoin ATM or buy gift cards with it.

"Certainly, those are huge red flags because any reputable company is not going to address your past due payments or bills in that way. Our staff is very good at the trying to probe with our members as far as why they're taking out the cash now, particularly if it's out of sorts for their normal banking. If a senior comes in and asked for a few thousand dollars in cash, it's likely going to raise some red flags. So, our staff will probably try and have a conversation with them as to what the purpose of the funds are. But every case is really different."

The more consistent type of fraud encountered by Access involves people giving away their online credentials said Berzuk.

"Or their credentials have been fished away from them by either asking for them, directing them to a website that gathered them, they click on a link - an unknown link - or open an attachment that they're not familiar with which can download malicious software onto your device without you knowing. {This software] enable them to log your keystrokes. Once a member reports that to us, or if we find it and advise the member of suspicious activity, we’ll have them clean their computer, take it to a place to get it scanned for viruses and stuff. That's the most regular loss that we see."

Access provides several tools to protect members who do their banking online.

"We have multi-factor authentication," points out Berzuk. "If someone wants to add a new bill payment, payee or an e- transfer recipient for money to be sent out, there's multi factor authentication where they have to have a cell number or email code to input into the online banking. That protects a little bit against phishing where someone might steal your login credentials. There are also some alerts within online banking where members can go in and set transactional alerts if money is taken out of your account. Those will help against some of those phishing scams where you might be compromised with your online banking."

In 2023, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) registered over 66,000 reports of fraud worth $554M from 44,111 victims. The CAFC warns that scams and cybercrimes can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time - even on social media.

"It's very easy to get caught up in social media, re-reading the comments on a post [where] a random person put a link into something - I wonder what that is - and you click on it. Facebook will put a disclaimer to say we're taking you outside our environment and people, without reading, will just click yes."

Problem is, says Berzuk, you never know what sites you're getting directed to. 

"Just be careful that you're not just clicking on anything without some context around it. Make sure all your devices have an antivirus software, both your computers and phones. There are varying types on the market, from free ones to paid ones. You'll get a little bit more protection with the paid ones, but they can help you avoid malicious sites and help protect you."

Berzuk advises against using public wi-fi to conduct personal banking or logging into social media.

"When you're at a fast-food restaurant or hotel where you log into a basic 1-2-3 password, you want to assume that anybody can see that information going back and forth. It's much safer to use your home's or friend's password-protected wi-fi before you log into any online banking or sensitive websites. [Open public wi-fi] is how a lot of online credentials are phished."

If the unthinkable happens, The CAFC urges scam victims to report the incident to the local police and to the Anti-Fraud Centre.

Berzuk also recommends a number of online government resources that educate and help protect people from becoming victims. They include websites such as The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security and the CFAC.

The Canadian edition of The Little Black Book of Scams is a compact and easy to use reference guide filled with information to help protect against a variety of common scams. 

The CAFC urges scam victims to report the incident to the local police and to the Anti-Fraud Centre.

~With files from Candace Derksen~