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Colour graphite illustration of a woman looking at her phone with a confused expression, while holding a credit card in the other hand
Illustration by David Sparshott

Think Twice Before Tapping

How to spot and avoid online scams

With advances in AI and other technologies, web scammers are getting a lot craftier, says Daniel Tsai, a lecturer at U of T Mississauga’s Institute for Communication, Culture, Information and Technology. “When in doubt, always verify,” he warns. Tsai, an expert in online fraud, offered these four tips on how to spot – and avoid – a cyberswindle.

They look legitimate

Scammers send texts and emails that look like they are coming from institutions such as banks, with partial account numbers and requests for passwords. Examine them carefully, says Tsai. “I received a fake request from TD Bank with the first four digits of my bank card. Turns out those digits are the same four digits on every TD card.”

Scrutinize the source

Phishing emails often ask readers to click a link, download a file or purchase a gift card. But they often contain an error, says Tsai. “It looks like it’s from your boss, but the name or address is misspelled.” The best defence, says Tsai, is to confirm directly with the source. “Don’t email back; it will just go to the scammer,” says Tsai. “Call the person or, if work-related, pop into their office.”

Unwanted calls

Even legitimate businesses are reducing staff and relying on AI to robocall customers. Tsai advises using a filter – available on your phone or from a cell provider – to block unknown numbers. “I use it, and it has dramatically reduced my robocalls,” he says.

Attack of the clones

The latest scam is voice replication. A fraudster downloads a video from your Facebook feed, copies your voice with AI and impersonates you on a call to grandma, asking for $2,000 to get you out of jail. A good rule of thumb, especially when cash or personal info is requested: hang up and call the person yourself.

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