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In a national survey conducted for RBC by Angus Reid, respondents in the Atlantic region were the most likely of all Canadians to say they had received an email or text directing them to a fake website related to COVID-19.
Cybercriminals capitalized on COVID-19 fears with more phishing scams targeted to Atlantic Canadians during the pandemic than to any other region in the country, says a fraud expert at the Royal Bank of Canada.
“The Atlantic Canadian provinces seem to have been much more targeted with the incidence of COVID-19 phishing websites promoting personal protection equipment almost a third higher than the national average,” said Jason Storsley, the bank’s vice-president of fraud management.
Phishing websites are made by scammers who create pages that appear legitimate, often making them look like business, banking or government websites to trick people into giving personal information like passwords or bank account and credit card numbers.
In a national survey conducted for the bank by Angus Reid, respondents in the Atlantic region were the most likely of all Canadians to say they had received an email or text directing them to a fake website related to COVID-19.
Older people targeted, but not only victims
The coronavirus is much more likely to be fatal when it infects the elderly, and the Atlantic region has the most aged population in the country. Online scammers know this only too well.
“They’re very targeted and very persistent, and they will exploit whatever differences in demographics or regional disparities,” said Storsley.
It’s not the elderly, though, sounding the alarm when it comes to these scams in Atlantic Canada. In the survey, 41 per cent of Atlantic Canadians aged 18 to 34 and 12 per cent of those aged 34 to 54 noticed they had received phishing emails. Among those older than that, only two per cent spotted them.
“The younger demographic are very tech savvy and familiar with the technology,” said Storsley.
While that know-how may be helping younger people, it also seems to be making many of them a tad over-confident in their use of apps, he said. Almost half of younger Atlantic Canadians have shared their bank or credit card personal identification code with friends or family. Roughly the same number have sent emails for money transfers with easy-to-guess passwords.
More than half use the same password for online banking and mobile banking as for other online accounts.
And 69 per cent of Atlantic Canadians aged 18 to 34 admit to logging onto online or mobile banking using public Wi-Fi, widely considered by cybersecurity experts to be riskier because it is easier for hackers to steal information.
Among other online crimes most likely to target older Canadians are the infamous romance or catfishing scams.
“Especially in the last year, with so much dating going online, (catfishing scams have) skewed towards the younger demographics but it is still mostly seniors,” said Storsley.
In these, the criminal sets up a fake profile and tricks people looking for love by roping them into a relationship that quickly develops into requests for money, usually for some kind of made-up emergency.
“This is the number 1 scam affecting Canadians in 2020,” said Storsley.
Last year, Canadians lost a reported $18.5 million to catfishing scams. Experts suspect the real losses are much higher since many victims feel too embarrassed to come forward.
Across the country, 13 per cent of respondents to the RBC survey said they had received such a catfishing scam email or text, compared with nine per cent in Atlantic Canada.