Albertans falling victim to ‘unprecedented surge’ of online scams, including pet scams

Fraud experts warn of a growing number of "free" puppy scam posts online . File

Fraud experts are warning of an “unprecedented surge” of online scams costing Canadians and Albertans millions every year.

Social Catfish, an online consumer protection and people-search company, just released a new study that looked at the growing numbers, and provinces victimized the most.

Alberta ranked second on that list — only behind Ontario.

The study analyzed five years of data from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and found a record $380 million was stolen in 2021, up more than double from $165 million in 2020.

Alberta victims lost an average of $2,970 over the last five years.

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David McClellan, president of Social Catfish, told Global News the rankings take into account population and age demographics.

“In this study, we saw that people 45 and up were the people that lost the most amount of money,” McClellan said. “That was scammed the most.”

He added the trend is a byproduct of many things; the pandemic, the loneliness it created and the need for connection — even with a stranger.

“When we talk about these scams a lot of people are like: ‘Oh how stupid are these people? How could they fall for this?'” McClellan said. “These people are literally groomed over a period of time.

“The majority of people that are scammed, it’s not because they’re dumb. The number one aspect is that people are not educated on what happens online. People are too trusting.”

Puppy scams

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Puppy scams have been a big moneymaker during the pandemic as people looked to fill the isolation void with a furry companion.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) told Global News they are usually listed as urgent and free and that’s how they catch people.

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“They’re in a hurry to get rid of the puppy,” the CAFC’s Jeff Horncastle pointed out. “It’s either free or very cheap, way below market value.”

Global Calgary recently looked into several puppy adoption posts on social media sites. The conversation with the person(s) offering the pup was always the same.

It involved a spiel indicating the pup was available because its owner had died or couldn’t care for them anymore. When we offered to pick up the pup in person, we were also always told the family had moved to Ontario to care for a sick child. We were even sent photos of a child in a hospital bed.

The “owner” continued to engage in the “adoption,” offering to ship the pup to a Calgary address. They then provided a link to a shipping company website and said it would cost $200.

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“They have the ability to create these fake websites and make it as realistic as possible,” Horncastle warned. “We’ve seen victims having to pay for shipping and then it turns out they have to pay for insurance, then its pay for the crate.

“Then they have to pay for certain papers. It never ends.”

In the end, the pup is never sent.

Spotting a fake ad

The CAFC said it’s important to research any website sent independently and not just click on the link.

Horncastle also advised people to buy and adopt locally.

As much as possible, try not to even deal with a shipping company,” he said. “Try to do it in person. Try to stay in your area.”

As for being lured in with a sob story, he advised people to investigate the situation and not react right away.

Social Catfish also said once someone has been victimized, they could become a target again later on.

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“Once someone has been scammed there is a high chance that they could be passed around to somebody else. They (fraudsters) even sell lists of people that have been scammed before.”

The only way to keep from having that information shared is to not become a victim in the first place. McClellan said that can only be done by educating people.

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