The top five scams of 2021 cost Canadians millions

March is Fraud Prevention Month, and this year we’re examining some of the top scams Canadians had to watch out for in 2021. Over the last year, fraudulent activity continued to rise as the pandemic created a perfect storm for scammers to trick unsuspecting and vulnerable individuals.

“Whether it was because Canadians spent more time online or on social media, many were more susceptible to investment fraud, romance scams and other criminal activity,” said CTV News. According to reports, the top five scams of the year cost Canadians over $160 million.

Here’s what to watch out for to protect yourself from similar scams:

1. Investment Scams Cost Canadians $70.2 million

When it comes to investment scams, be cautious of unsolicited emails from strangers that promise unusually high rates of return.

Top scams: Investment fraud

Always be suspicious of:

  • Unsolicited investment opportunities (even from friends and family)
  • Higher-than-normal returns on your investments
  • High-pressure tactics
  • Fake cryptocurrency websites
  • Requests for cryptocurrency payments

What to watch out for:

Never rely on the websites and phone numbers included in unsolicited materials provided to you. Make sure you look for possible scam alerts about the investment being offered and check the legitimacy of the investment with your provincial/territorial securities regulators.

Prediction for 2022:

Investment scams will be on the rise — especially with the increased popularity of cryptocurrencies. Virtual institutions and currencies are part of the new banking era, and their prominence is expected to grow.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) warns that there aren’t fraud protections when you use cryptocurrencies, so it’s always important to do your research. Consider that cryptocurrencies increase your risk of having your personal information compromised and losing your hard-earned money.

2. Romance Scams Cost Canadians $42.2 million

Everyone is looking for love — and fraudsters know this. They will continue to create fake profiles and pictures that pull on your heartstrings in an attempt to gain your trust.

Top scams: Romance and online dating

Watch out for these red flags:

  • when someone you haven’t met in person professes their love to you
  • if the person wants to quickly move to a private or different mode of communication (email, text, Whatsapp, Google Hangouts, etc.)
  • if they always have an excuse not to meet in person
  • if you receive poorly/oddly written messages, sometimes even addressing you by the wrong name
  • if the individual claims to live close to you but is working overseas
  • if they act distressed or angry to guilt you into sending money
  • if the individual discourages you from discussing them or their situation with your friends and family (attempting to isolate you from those who may be suspicious of the relationship)

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6 fraud prevention tips to stay safe during the pandemic


3. Spearphishing Scams Cost Canadians $38 million

Be aware of texts and email messages from scammers pretending to be from a legitimate source saying that someone is trying to access your account. Never respond to the text or email, and do not click on any links.

What should you do?

If you’re concerned about these messages, especially if they are ongoing, call your financial institution directly to find out if they’re trying to get in touch with you.

4. Merchandising Scams Cost Canadians $5.6 million

top scams: merchandising tricks

Whether you are selling or buying, merchandising scams can trick even the savviest shoppers. People are looking for the best deal on everything from appliances, car parts, and even puppies, so when there’s a great price or someone’s extra eager, it’s hard not to jump at the offer.

Watch out for these red flags:

  • Be wary of unauthorized sellers
  • Purchase concert and event tickets from authorized event merchants only
  • Check for spelling mistakes in the web address and on the website
  • Be cautious of blowout sales or greatly reduced ticket prices
  • Look for and clarify any unknown fees involved
  • Locate and verify the company’s contact information (address, phone number, email) before you buy
  • If you make an online purchase, always use a credit card or payment method that gives you the option to dispute a purchase

If someone sends you a cheque for more than the agreed amount, that’s also a red flag. Likewise, if there is a sense of urgency from the other party that seems unreasonable, you might be better walking the other way. And the golden rule applies here: if it’s too good to be true, it’s likely a scam.

5. Service Scams Cost Canadians $4.8 million

There are many known examples of service scams involving countless industries, including financial services, telecommunications, insurance, tech support and immigration. Be on the lookout for some of the more common service scams reported to CAFC, including:

It’s also important to keep an eye out for online job scams. The promise of earning lots of money quickly might seem amazing, but if it’s too good to be true, it could be a scam. Fraudsters may approach you through social media and fake job postings, but before accepting any offers, make sure you do your research, find legitimate job postings, talk to real people and ask a lot of questions.


Remember that businesses will not send you funds for a job that you have never completed, so if they are asking you to urgently cash a cheque, that is a red flag. This can lead you straight into their trap.

Don’t forget tax scams

With tax season creeping up, expect an increase in fraudsters posing as Canada Revenue Agency or Service Canada employees. They may claim that you have a compromised SIN number, an outstanding case against you, owe back taxes, have unpaid balances or have even committed a financial crime.

The fraudsters may threaten that if you do not speak to them immediately, you’ll be arrested, fined or deported. They may also request payment via money service businesses, prepaid cards and gift cards (iTunes, Google Play or Steam cards) or even Bitcoin. While this can be shocking and scary, do not take the bait.

Remember, the CRA will never request payment through any of these methods, and it is fully within your rights to hang up and verify any of these claims by calling the CRA directly.

Armed with this knowledge and ready to proactively avoid the scammers, you’ll be safer online. To get extra protection, learn about SIM swaps and how to prevent smartphone fraud. Then explore these 17 tips to protect your ACU account from online fraud.

Stay smart and get ahead of the scammers this Fraud Prevention Month.


About Kat Attwell

With almost 20 years experience at ACU, Kat Attwell has been helping members realize their financial potential through investments, financing and loans. Now as Corporate Risk Officer, she works with ACU branches to educate staff on fraud prevention while also handling fraud inquiries to help protect members and the credit union. Outside of the office, Kat enjoys playing soccer and has been known to have a green thumb — making the most of her Manitoba garden.

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