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Millions of scam emails sent daily looking to scoop up personal information


A consumer pays with a credit card at a store in Montreal on July 6, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

A consumer pays with a credit card at a store in Montreal on July 6, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

LuAnn LaSalle, The Canadian Press

MONTREAL - Digitally connected young Canadians have become regular targets of phishing scams — fraudsters trying to steal personal information for financial gain, according to a new survey by Visa Canada.

The survey found that 92 per cent of respondents under age 35 confirmed they had been targeted by phishing scams for information such as bank accounts, passwords, card numbers and social insurance numbers.

“They’re online, they’re on their (mobile) phones, they’re very well connected for the most part,” Gord Jamieson, head of risk services at Visa Canada, said of that demographic.

Conversely, scammers usually target seniors with a phone call at home, Jamieson said from Toronto.

Overall, 84 per cent of the Canadians surveyed said they frequently received phishing scams and two-thirds said they would report them if they knew how.

The survey was released Monday in advance of fraud prevention month in March.

A separate study released by PwC, a global consulting firm, said only about one-quarter (22 per cent) of the Canadian companies responding to its 2014 survey indicated they had been affected by cybercrime.

That was far less than more traditional crimes such as theft (58 per cent) and procurement fraud (33 per cent) and about the same as accounting fraud (22 per cent).

However, PwC said that cybercrime may be under-reported because it goes undetected. It also said the spread of cybercrime isn’t strictly a technology problem.

“Businesses aren’t being attacked by computers, but by people attempting to exploit human frailty as much as technical vulnerability. It is a strategy problem, a human problem and a process problem,” said Steven Henderson, who leads PwC’s Canadian forensic services.

Visa Canada said about a third of the respondents to its survey admitted to having fallen prey to phishing scams.

Unsolicited emails, text messages, mail and phone calls that have a “sense of urgency” and appear to require an immediate response or “your account could be closed” are typical tactics of phishing scams.

“They want you to respond and they try to put pressure on the recipient of that email to respond,” Jamieson said.

Besides asking for passwords and account numbers, signs of phishing scams often include bad grammar and misspelled words, although the scammers are getting better at that, he said.

Fake emails can appear to be from banks, businesses, organizations or credit card companies asking for passwords and account numbers.

However, Jamieson said banks and Visa don’t send emails asking for customers personal information.

“We know who you are.”

There are 156 million phishing emails sent out globally every day, he noted.

Jamieson said while emails shouldn’t be opened, they shouldn’t be deleted until after they’re forwarded to law enforcement, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at; Visa’s or

Opening phishing emails can result in malware being installed on a user’s computer that can steal passwords when doing online banking, for example.

The survey also found that British Columbia residents received the most phishing messages at 89 per cent while Quebecers receive the fewest at 77 per cent.

Albertans receive the most text phishing scams at 27 per cent, while residents of Atlantic provinces receive the most home phone phishing messages.

Some 25 per cent of Prairie respondents always report phishing scams, the highest among all provinces, while 87 per cent of respondents in Ontario said they combated phishing by deleting or not responding, according to the survey.

For the study, Pollara conducted an online survey of 1,007 Canadians between Jan. 13 and Jan. 16. The polling industry’s professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.

© The Canadian Press, 2014