Online scams 101: How to spot them, avoid them, and trusted resources

Shruti Shekar
Telecom & Tech Reporter


The RCMP, CRA, OPP, and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) have repeatedly been warning Canadians of online scams involving COVID-19. Since March, the CAFC said Canadians have lost over $1.8 million through digital fraud.

So how can you identify an online scam? What are some of the red flags, what should you do if you think you’ve been scammed, and what are some resources that are good to help? 

Kelley Keehn, a consumer advocate for FP Canada and personal finance educator, said in an interview that everyone is a target and no one is immune to scams, especially seniors. 

“We think people who get duped are stupid or they just aren’t savvy or don’t’ know what they’re doing. That’s not in fact true at all. Fraudsters are looking to catch you just at the right time. Maybe the kids are running around, or your boss is yelling at you about something online,” she said. 

“It’s Friday afternoon before a long weekend, and you get an email that looks really credible that maybe looks like it’s from your bank saying that your account is going to be shut down because of fraudulent activity.”

What are the red flags?

Keehn said that most scam emails appear to be very credible, making it difficult to detect red flags. 

“You don’t know when something is a red flag,” she said. “There is nothing screaming at you ‘don’t open this link, it’s fraudulent.’ You have to assume that every single time, even if it looks like it’s coming from a friend, that it could be malicious.”

For example, Keehn said she recently received a message with a voice link on LinkedIn from a senior professional, which she found unusual, but clicked anyway. Immediately, her antivirus software alerted her that there was an issue. 

“Anything that has an attachment, anything that has a link, don’t click on it,” she said. 

More recently, the CRA has been warning Canadians of a scam relating to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. Keehn said the scam involves fraudsters telling those who have applied that they are eligible to receive more money than what they will be getting through the program. 

“Contact the government on your own. Do not respond to these texts or emails,” she said. “You want to go to and you can get all the information you need.”

Keehn said there are similar emails and text scams from fraudsters pretending to be banks. 

“I opened up a new business account a couple of years ago and I got an email saying ‘hey, you’ve been approved for a $2,500 Visa on your new company,’ and I thought is this real or not?”

Keehn called her bank to confirm if the email was legitimate. 

Next steps

If you receive a scam message, Keehn advises people take a screenshot or picture of the message, then delete it. 

The next step is to report it to the CAFC, by phone (1-888-495-8501) or online

The CAFC said that it has received over 1,100 fraud reports linked to COVID-19 and of those reports, 411 were listed as victims who have lost money. 

Keehn said that only 5 per cent of people ever report fraud.

“I know people feel embarrassed and maybe ashamed and they don’t want to admit they’ve been a victim, but it’s really important that we share this information,” she said. 

“Take a screenshot, send it to the [CAFC], they’re not going to help you recoup the money necessarily, but they do put out bulletins to their stakeholders, to the press, to try to get the word out.”

Keehn said that the “sad fact” of online scams is that most fraudsters ask for a wire transfer, which does not have any capability of tracing. 

“If you talk to the RCMP, they’ll say your best protection is not to part with the money in the first place, because it’s very difficult to get it back,” she said. 

Setting up secure passwords

Keehn emphasized that it is important to have proper password protections. 

She suggests not creating passwords linked to birthdays or special anniversaries.

She also said it was important to not store passwords in a note in your wallet, on your phone, or computer. 

Keehn also added that the unfortunate circumstance is that many apps that link to your bank account to manage your funds automatically eliminate the protective barrier to your bank. 

Where to go for trusted resources and advice


Protection from fraud and scams (Government of Canada) 

Financial Planning for Canadians 


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