ST. MARY’S — Guysborough County residents lost more than a quarter-million dollars to phone, text and email scammers in 2021, according to statistics compiled for The Journal by the Financial Crime Unit of the Nova Scotia RCMP.
The frauds ranged from those involving investment, prize, merchandise and missing person schemes to outright cyber-attacks and extortion. There were even two reports involving “romance pitches” in which grifters made off with $142,068 of the victim’s money, which amounted to nearly half the $261,000 value of all frauds in the county last year.
“Scammers are not limiting their targets to those who live in large communities,” N.S. RCMP financial crimes investigator Sgt. Andrew Joyce told The Journal in an email. “Police have noticed that they are getting more and more sophisticated at their craft by mining data on social media… everyone is fair-game.”
Long-time resident and former councillor of the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s Debbie Findlay said the problem is not new in her part of Guysborough County, but that it may be growing more widespread as scammers tend to target older people who populate rural locales and who, they think, are less technologically savvy than urban dwellers.
“I would definitely agree that the problem is more likely in the rural areas than elsewhere,” she said. “I can’t think of anyone here who has said, ‘No, I have never gotten [a scam call or email]. I would suggest that they hit everybody. There are only 1,700 households, not even 1,700 tax accounts, in St. Mary’s municipality, and everybody you meet says somebody has tried to scam them.”
The incidence of this type of crime is on the rise across the province and the country, said N.S. RCMP Public Information Officer Cpl. Chris Marshall in a statement earlier this month.
“According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, Nova Scotians lost more than $2.5 million to fraudsters in 2021. This was up from just over $790,000 in 2020, which represents a rise of 331 per cent. It marks the highest yearly recorded financial losses to Nova Scotians in the history of the Centre.”
Meanwhile, Joyce said his unit has noticed several characteristics common to most scams that target individuals wherever they live.
“The scammer threatens immediate arrest, deportation or suspension of your travel visa or your tax accounts if immediate payment is not made,” he said. “Legitimate government business does not carry on business this way. This is a red flag.”
A sense of urgency in an unsolicited email or text message is also a telltale sign of fraud.
“Do not open messages that claim to be from businesses or organizations with which you do not have an existing relationship,” he said. “A business you never heard of that knocks on your door or calls you on the phone – you are likely being scammed.”
What’s more, he said, “Most always the scammer requests payment in cryptocurrency or gift cards; this is another red flag that it’s a scam.”
According to Findlay, “I almost got caught in this thing a few years ago. Someone came on and said they’d found a Trojan horse in my computer. I think they tried to disguise themselves as Microsoft or whatever. It ended up with my screen screaming and going on and off, on and off, on and off. I just shut it down...If you don’t know what you’re receiving or what you’re hearing or whatever, hang up, turn off.”
Joyce said that’s good advice. “The best way to help prevent these scams is through awareness and education,” he said. “If in doubt, hang up or delete, and do not continue communication. Sharing this information with others may help someone from becoming a victim.”
For information about common scams and ways to protect yourself, visit: www.antifraudcentre.ca. If you think you or someone you know has been a victim of fraud, contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501.