A Calgary woman is frustrated after a WestJet customer service scam tried to swindle her money and banking information.
Kathryn Harris was supposed to leave on a WestJet flight from Vancouver to Calgary on Dec. 23. After her flight was cancelled due to a snowstorm in Vancouver, WestJet promised to book her on a flight within two days or give her a full refund.
When she wasn’t rebooked, she tried to start the process of getting her money back. The WestJet website and customer service line, however, was less than helpful.
She then clicked on a link to get redirected to WestJet’s Facebook page to talk to a live agent through Facebook Messenger but was transferred to a fraudulent page instead.
Harris said she chatted with someone posing as a customer service agent named Juliet but got suspicious when they started asking for her banking and personal information.
“She said you have to download this desktop application, which will give her access to look into my account and guide me through the process,” Harris said.
“Then, they suddenly sent me a link that was on the computer to Capital One and I didn’t like that either. Then they wanted me to download this app which was simply making payments.
“They said they wanted to verify my information and I got to a point where I finally said they’re a scam.”
Harris isn’t the only one being scammed by fraudsters. In an emailed statement to Global News, a WestJet spokesperson said the company is aware of multiple fraudulent websites and social media accounts impersonating the airline.
“We have received a number of reported cases related to fraudulent websites and social media accounts impersonating our business,” said Denise Kenney, WestJet’s strategist for media and public relations.
“While our cyber security team is diligently working to address this ongoing matter, we are advising all of our guests to remain vigilant against potential scams and fraud and asking that they double-check that the WestJet account they are interacting with is verified.”
Lisa Kearney, founder and chief executive officer of the non-profit Women CyberSecurity Society, said scammers will take advantage of the holidays when airlines are typically backed up.
“People are not paying attention and they’re highly stressed and they’re just not looking at the fine details. Online fraudsters will often spoof an email address or an online website… People will just enter their information as quickly as possible to try to move things forward,” Kearney told 770 CHQR.
“Unfortunately, it’s one of those techniques that criminals use to take advantage of people and it is a high-risk period.”
Kearney also said women are more likely to be targeted in these kinds of scams, as well as online violence and hate.
The risks are higher when they are older.
“Women are more highly targeted because they are often less tech-savvy in some cases, not always. They may not have the same exposure to technology that men in their same age bracket do,” the cybersecurity expert said.
“Generally speaking, older women are targeted when it comes to elder abuse or online fraud. Unfortunately, older women are easier targets because they are more susceptible to believing what someone is telling them.”
But a lot of younger people are falling for scams, too. In her 26 years as a cybersecurity expert, Kearney said she’s seen a rise in young people falling for online financial scams.
“What’s driven it over the last couple of years is the pandemic, where more and more people are interacting online than ever before and without the knowledge of knowing how to protect themselves from nefarious people that are looking to take advantage of them,” she said.
University of Calgary School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape professor Tom Keenan said scammers also target people during stressful and fearful times when people are the most vulnerable.
“It’s bad guys taking advantage of human fear,” Keenan said.
“There are a number of things that can happen. One of them is that you’ll give out information and somebody could steal your credit card. Another is that your computer might get hijacked and suddenly you’ve got malware looking for your information.
“Sometimes your phone number is involved… You get transferred to a foreign phone number and you get a big phone bill because you aren’t aware that you’re talking to a scammer.”
Education is key, say cybersecurity experts
The best way to prevent falling victim to scams and phishing attempts is to be educated, cybersecurity experts said.
Airlines usually have banners and pages that alert customers about scam campaigns, Kearney said. But the best way to protect yourself is to secure your private and personal information, she said.
If you suspect you are being scammed, report the incident to the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre or the RCMP.
“Never indulge information to strangers. Always call back the company directly with the phone number that you have instead of phone numbers that can easily be spoofed,” the Women CyberSecurity Society founder said.
“We always encourage people to secure their accounts… Lock down your social media accounts and enable two-factor authentication for your emails. Block people that you don’t want to interact with to protect yourself from any kind of negative comments or attention.
“Never share passwords and always use a password manager that will allow you to set complex passwords for different accounts.”
If you are using social media websites to try and reach customer service agents, don’t post your information publicly. Keenan said he’s seen a lot of people put their booking references, flight details and even credit card numbers when they’re trying to get WestJet’s attention on Facebook or Twitter.
“People have to do a little detective work. If you see a page that’s only existed for a week and only has 27 people following it, it’s a fraud,” Keenan said.
“One of the other telltale signs is if people want to help you, they will. If they tell you that you’re going to get your refund tomorrow, even if the airline’s turned you down, they’re probably just trying to get your credit card details.”
WestJet needs to do more, says consumer group
Harris said she’s not giving up on getting a refund from WestJet, but adds more needs to be done to prevent customers from getting scammed.
“I’m gonna keep trying. I’m looking on their site for an email to see if I can email them this information, but they need to know that their website is directing people to that (fraudulent) Facebook Messenger site,” she said.
“They need to either correct it or remove it entirely because I didn’t fall for it but others might and that’s a shame.”
Tahira Dawood, a staff lawyer for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said she is concerned that WestJet’s chat system is being hosted on Facebook Messenger.
Unfortunately, there is no specific provision in the Air Passenger Protection Regulations that deals with fraud.
“It’s much more secure and better for WestJet to invest in a portal which is more secure than Facebook Messenger,” she said.
“You’re a big airline, you should be able to afford to have a portal of your own which is secure rather than making passengers go through different websites to get their refund.”