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Sellers beware: New scam exploits language barrier to request funds

A St. Albert woman wants people to be aware of a new scam she has encountered when selling online.
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Jenna Basso wants people to know about a new scam she encountered while selling books on a St. Albert Buy and Sell page. She shows an image of the e-transfer request on Nov. 26, 2021. JESSICA NELSON/St. Albert Gazette

ST. ALBERT:  Jenna Basso has accepted hundreds of e-transfers from items she has posted for sale online, but a Nov. 24 sale was filled with red flags.

“There was just something off about the whole transaction that even just from the start to finish there were red flags,” said Basso.

Basso had posted a variety of children’s books for sale on a St. Albert social media sell and exchange page. She received a message through the social media website, but the message was in French, a language Basso doesn’t speak.

“I just kind of replied back with, ‘English question mark.' Then the next message was, ‘Available?'” she said.

Not all of the books were still available, and Basso told the person a discounted price. Basso received what she thought was an email transfer, with the original price.

“That was my first red flag. I'm like, ‘Why would you pay more for something when I told you that I don't have those?'” she said.

The second red flag was the transfer was in French.

“The message was all in French. So, knowing that I don't speak French … I copied and pasted it and put it to a translator app,” she said.

What the person had sent was a request for funds.

“They were requesting that I send them money. I mean most people with these things will just click, click on it, click ‘Accept,' and then not realize that it just took $30 out of their account instead of put $30 in their account,” she said.

A spokesperson for TD Canada Trust, the bank Basso does business with, was unavailable for an interview in time for publication. Ian Mccoll, a manager of corporate and public affairs for the bank, did, however, send a link to the company’s fraud protection section on their website.

In a story about online shopping scams, Tammy McKinnon, head of the financial crimes and fraud management group at TD, said once the recipient completes an email money transfer, it can’t be retrieved by the bank.

“Once you hit ‘Accept’ it's done,” Basso said.

Data from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre shows an increase in the amount of money Canadians have lost to fraud. As of Oct. 31, Canadians have lost $198 million to fraud compared to the $106.6 million lost in 2020.

Reports of fraud are down this year. As of Oct. 31, there were 62,333 fraud reports compared to 71,100 in 2020.

The anti-fraud centre has a list of common scams going around, but the email transfer scam was not readily searchable.

Basso said she just wants other people to be aware of the scam.

In a press release, the St. Albert RCMP said it is important not to click on links from people you don’t know or to verify the legitimacy of a link from a friend or a company before you click.

There are a variety of cybercrimes.

Cyberthieves either target or use a computer, a computer network, or a networked device such as a tablet or a cellphone. Because of our daily dependency on the Internet and devices, it is easy to fall prey to cybercrime.

The St. Albert RCMP said common cybercrimes to be aware of include phishing — email and Internet fraud, harassment and sextortion, ransomware attacks, identity fraud, child pornography and solicitation, account hacking, drug trafficking, and credit card fraud.

Phishing, one of the more commonly used tactics in cybercrime, asks people to validate information by clicking a link and also may use the threat of legal action. If you have concerns, call the company threatening action directly.

Other steps the RCMP recommends to protect yourself from cybercrime include not reusing passwords, and changing passwords often with a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters for strength.

Multi-factor authentication also makes it more difficult for criminals to access social media or other websites, as it requires a user to access an account with more than one piece of identification.

Privacy settings on social media accounts are important as they limit what personal information the general public can see. The RCMP recommends users review privacy settings regularly to see what personal information is posted to their profiles.

The RCMP also recommends Internet users buy from reputable sources and avoid conducting financial transactions on public Wi-Fi. People should also install updates on their devices as soon as possible as these updates fix security issues.

After realizing the e-transfer was a request for funds and not a deposit, Basso asked the person if they had made a mistake.

“They blocked me and left the conversation. They knew what they were doing,” Basso said.

“When it's in a different language, you're thinking, ‘OK, there's a language barrier.' They try to use that, so people don't actually check what it says.”