Online searches for investment ideas may be scams: Alberta RCMP

CALGARY –

Police say they have been informed about a number of incidents where victims, believing they are dealing with legitimate organizations about investments, are having their savings stolen by scammers.

The Alberta RCMP’s integrated market enforcement team (IMET) is sounding the alarm over a scheme known as “brand hijacking” or “clone firms”, where fraudulent organizations assume the identities of credible financial institutions.

In order for the scheme to work, police say the criminals rely on their victims’ curiosity about investment plans and turn to online searches for help.

“Victims search specific investment products via the web and, subsequently, their top search engine results include a number of advertisements linked to fake websites where they are prompted to provide their contact information,” RCMP said in release.

Once they’ve recorded that personal information, the scammers move ahead, contacting their victims and posing as representatives of the financial institution, often using the names of actual investment professionals in an attempt to make the act more convincing.

As a result, victims are losing their savings, unwittingly handing it over to scammers through wire transfers and bank drafts.

RCMP say they are engaged with several other agencies in an attempt to stop these criminals.

“We are working closely with the Alberta Securities Commission and other Canadian securities regulators, the Forensic Accounting Management Group, Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, as well as the Public Prosecution Service of Canada and Specialized Prosecutions of the Province of Alberta, to protect investors from this type of crime and enhance confidence in our country’s capital markets,” said Sgt. Lloyd Schoepp with Alberta RCMP IMET in a release.

In the meantime, officials say residents need to be informed in order to protect themselves from being tricked.

They advise:

  • Avoiding advertisements on search engines and go directly to a financial institution’s website when you’re seeking investment advice;
  • Contact a registered investment dealer over the phone or by email to speak with a respresentative about your finances;
  • Promises of high investment returns are always a red flag;
  • Don’t feel pressured to make any decision on an investment – be sure to do your research and plan properly and;
  • Watch out for websites that pose as something they aren’t by looking for errors or differences in the email addresses or internet domains.

Anyone who feels like they were the victim of a scam is advised to immediately report it to their local police detachment.

They should also contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre online or by phone at 1-888-495-8501.