Key takeaways:

  • Identity theft is when someone uses your personal information without your consent or knowledge.
  • There are many ways a fraudster can gain access to your personal and financial information, both on and offline.
  • Scammers rummage through your recycling bin for bank statements, steal your mail or watch you enter your PIN while checking out at a store.
  • There are many simple ways you can protect your personal and financial information.
  • Staying informed, limiting what you share on social media and ignoring suspicious emails can prevent you from falling for a scam.

Fraudulent activities are an ongoing threat to Canadians. In 2022, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre received over 90 ,000 reports of fraud — to the tune of over $530 million in losses.1

Knowledge is power when it comes to the different forms of fraud and identity theft scams out there. Read on for scammers' most frequently used tactics and how you can safeguard your finances and personal information.

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is when someone uses your personal information without your consent or knowledge, typically for financial gain.

There are many ways for a fraudster to get your information. They might rummage through your recycling bin for bank statements, steal your mail or watch you enter your PIN while checking out at a store.

Thieves can also access your information online. Phishing is the second most common form of fraud in Canada (8%) among Canadians aged 18 to 34, tied with debit card fraud (8%), according to a recent Ipsos poll. The No. 1 spot goes to credit card fraud, which 21% of people reported.2

You've likely experienced a phishing attempt, when a fraudster sends an email posing as a legitimate company or government agency. (When they do this through text, it's called smishing.) Their goal is to get you to reveal your personal information so they can use it to their advantage.

A couple examples of identity theft through phishing:

  • You receive an email that says you've won a contest. The only thing you need to do to claim your prize is give them your banking information.
  • You get an email that looks like it's from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), saying you owe money and providing a link where you can enter your personal and payment information. You enter your information, and it ends up in the hands of a fraudster.

Scams to look out for in Canada

If a fraudster gets access to your personal and financial information, there are many ways they can use it for their financial gain. Unfortunately, there seems to be no shortage of scams these days. But we've gathered some common scams to look out for.

Account takeover

An account takeover is when a thief gets into your online accounts and commits a financial crime. To gain access to your bank or credit accounts, the fraudster might use a phishing email or a tactic called credential stuffing. This is when they try a number of different usernames and passwords until they find one that works.

Once they're in your account, they can make purchases, open new accounts and withdraw your money. Fraudsters can also change the details of your account, such as your address, phone number and email, to bypass security measures, and lock you out of your account.

Brushing scam

If an unsolicited Amazon package arrives on your doorstep addressed to you, you might be involved in a brushing scam.

The way a brushing scam works is a company sends a package to your home. It has your name and address but no return information. The package often contains light, low-cost products sent from third-party sellers overseas.

Once the package is delivered, the company uses your name to write a favourable review of the product. The goal is to boost the seller's product rankings on e-commerce sites with the hopes of increasing sales.

While you don't have to pay for the package or find a way to return it, there's still a downside. Someone has your personal information and is using it without your permission for their own gain.

Bank inspector scams

In a bank inspector scam, you typically get a phone call from a fraudster posing as a bank manager or investigator. They explain that they're following up on a series of fraud cases that were committed by a staff member at your bank.

The caller may ask you to withdraw a large sum of money, which they claim they need to inspect as evidence. They'll want to meet at a location where you can hand over your money. The scammer will also tell you to wait for a call and not contact your bank, since the fraud was committed by a bank staff member. You'll end up waiting for a call that never comes, while the scammer takes off with your money.

Bank investigator scams ranked as one of the top 10 scams in 2022, and cost Canadians $6.7 million.3 As a reminder, banks and government officials will never:

  • Contact you to assist in an investigation
  • Ask you to withdraw money
  • Ask you for personal or financial information over the phone, unless you called them
  • Ask you to click on any links in an email or text

SIM swap

A SIM card is a tiny memory chip found in your mobile device with unique information that links it to your mobile network. This little chip allows you to send and receive calls and text messages and connect to the internet.

In a SIM scam, fraudsters contact your mobile company and move your phone number to a different SIM card. After the swap, they're able to access anything on your phone and any service linked to your phone number, including financial accounts, social accounts, emails and pictures. Your phone calls and text messages will also go to the fraudster, along with authentication codes and password resets.

How do they do it? SIM scams often start with a phishing email where they encourage you to reveal personal information that they then use to impersonate you. Once they have enough information, they contact your mobile phone carrier and pretend to be you.

Gift card scams

In a gift card scam, a fraudster may contact you claiming to work for the government. They explain that you owe money and may threaten you with jail time or other legal action if you don't repay your debt immediately.

The scammers encourage you to pay off your debt using prepaid gift cards or credit cards. Once you buy the cards, they'll ask you to provide the codes off the back so they can access to the funds.

E-Transfer scams

If you sell items on popular online marketplaces, watch out for fake e-Transfers. In this scenario, a fraudster says they'll pay for your product using an e-Transfer. But before the e-Transfer goes into your account, the fraudster will cancel the payment. Not only do you lose the payment, you also lose the product you were trying to sell.

E-Transfer scams can happen even if you have autodeposit set up on your account.3

Service scams

In a service scam, a fraudster advertises a service using social media, the phone or an online ad. Only to hire them, you have to make a prepayment. Then the scammer never shows up to provide the service.

There are many examples of service scams, including air duct cleaning scams, furniture repair and general contracting.

Title fraud scam

A title fraud scam occurs when a fraudster uses your personal information to steal your identity and pretend to be the owner of your home. Posing as you, the scammer assumes the title on your home and can then sell your property or obtain another mortgage in your name.

Often, homeowners don't find out about the title fraud scam until they're notified about a missed payment, or when they attempt to sell their home.

Tips to protect your personal and financial information

With so many potential scams out there, what can you do to protect yourself from fraud? Here are a list of tips to help you keep your personal and financial information safe.

How to protect your information online

  • Avoid public WiFi. Public WiFi makes it easier for scammers to access to your personal information. Never log into your bank or financial institution when you're on a public network.
  • Don't open unsolicited emails. If you receive an email from someone you don't know, don't open it. (If you ever get a suspicious email or text message from someone claiming to be from Scotiabank, please forward the information to
  • Use security software. Protect your computer by installing security software. Set it to update automatically to ensure it can keep up with the latest security threats.

How to stay safe on social media

  • Evaluate your privacy settings. Set your social media accounts to private so only the people you choose can see your information and send you direct messages.
  • Limit what you share. Keep your personal information personal. Avoid sharing details like your birthday, pet's name, anniversary, hometown, parents' names and other personal details a scammer could use.
  • Ignore suspicious links. Never click on a link if you don't know what it's for. Even if the link is from a friend, it could be part of a phishing scheme. If it seems suspicious, ask your friend to confirm what it is before you click.

How to protect your information online

  • Don't share your PIN. Keep your PIN private and memorize it instead of writing it down. Never share your PIN over the phone or online.
  • Regularly change your PIN. Choose a PIN that isn't easy for others to guess and change it regularly. Avoid using your birthday, phone number or address.
  • Cover your PIN. When you're at the ATM or cashing out at a store, keep your PIN safe by using your hand or a piece of paper to cover up your number.
  • Use strong passwords. You can create a passphrase to come up with strong passwords. Use separate passwords for different accounts and change them regularly.

How Scotiabank protects against fraud

  • Temporary card lock. If you've misplaced your Scotiabank Visa or American Express card, you can use our card lock service in the app. (Learn how to lock your Scotiabank credit card here.) When your card is locked, all new purchases, cash advances and other online and in-person transactions will be declined.
  • One-time password. Scotia offers hardware and software one-time password tokens. Scotiabank generates a unique password token to confirm your identity from multiple devices.
  • Biometric authentication. With biometric authentication, you can sign into the Scotiabank app (on an eligible device) using face recognition or your fingerprint instead of a password.
  • Fraud alerts. When you sign up for fraud alerts, you're immediately notified about unusual transactions on your account. The alerts happen in real time and you can get assistance 24/7. You can sign up for fraud alerts — at no additional cost — with your ScotiaCard Visa debit cards and Scotiabank Visa credit cards.

What to do if you think your identity was stolen

If you think you're the victim of an identity scam, contact your banks and credit card providers right away. If you're a Scotiabank customer, call us immediately at 1-866-625-0561 to report it.

To request a copy of your credit report to see if any new accounts have been opened in your name, you can contact TransUnion Canada and Equifax Canada. You can then decide if you need to put a fraud alert on your credit report to inform creditors that you're the victim of fraud. The goal is to raise a red flag to lenders and make it harder for the scammer to open a new credit account.

You can also report fraud and cybercrimes to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) by calling 1-888-495-8501 or visiting the CFAC reporting page. You can also contact your local police department.

Safeguard your information

To combat evolving fraud tactics, it's crucial to remain informed, alert and vigilant. Protect yourself by increasing awareness about identity theft scams, brushing scams, gift card scams, e-Transfer scams and service scams. Through education and proactive measures, you can safeguard your personal information — and your financial well-being.

Remember that Scotiabank will never send you an email or text asking you to provide personal or financial information, such as your account number, password or PIN. Scotiabank will also never ask you to validate or restore your account through an email or text message.

Learn how to protect yourself from scams today.