How can I recognise a SCAM?

A very good question and here are some tips including information from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. www.antifraudcentre.ca

1. If it sounds too good to be true – guess what?!
You’ve won a big prize in a contest that you don’t recall entering. You are offered a once-in-a-lifetime investment that offers a huge return. You are told that you can buy into a lottery ticket pool that cannot lose. Oh really?
2. You must pay or you can’t play.
“You’re a winner!” BUT, you must agree to send money to the caller in order to pay for delivery, processing, taxes, duties or some other fee in order to receive your prize. Sometimes the caller will even send a courier to pick up your money. No legitimate lotteries use this process!
3. You must give them your private financial information – I think not!
The caller asks for all your confidential banking and/or credit card information. Honest businesses do not require these details. If you are placing an over-the-phone order, be extremely careful when providing credit card information – get the name of the person and an order number and record it to compare with your monthly statement.
4. Will that be cash… or cash?
Often criminal telemarketers ask you to send cash or a money order, rather than a cheque or credit card. The reason is simple – cash is untraceable and can’t be cancelled. Crooks (obviously) have difficulty in establishing themselves as merchants with legitimate credit card companies.
5. The caller is more excited than are you – oh joy, oh rapture!
The crooks want to get you very excited about this “opportunity” so you won’t think clearly. Lottery, “free” vacation, stock tip – the gimmick doesn’t matter. Act in haste, repent at leisure!
6. The manager is calling – don’t we wish.
The person claims to be a government official, tax officer, banking official, lawyer or some other person in authority. The person calls you by your first name and asks you a lot of personal or lifestyle questions (such as “how often do your grown children visit you”). They are trying to get enough information to steal your identity or have another crook try to scam you as a parent/grandparent.
7. The stranger calling wants to become your best friend – so you need more?
Criminals love finding out if you’re lonely and willing to talk. Once they know that, they’ll try to convince you that they are your friend – after all, we don’t normally suspect our friends of being crooks. Hang up and ignore them – HONEST people don’t try to become best friends over the phone or internet or in chat rooms or dating sites.
8. It’s a limited opportunity and you’re going to miss out – good, miss out.
If you are pressured to make a big purchase decision immediately, it’s probably not legitimate. Real businesses or charities will give you a chance to check them out or think about it.

What can you do to protect yourself?
Remember, legitimate telemarketers have nothing to hide, however….
• criminals will say anything to part you from your hard-earned money.
• be cautious. You have the right to check out any caller by requesting written
information, a call back number, references and time to think over the offer. Legitimate business people will be happy to provide you with that information. They want the “bad guys” out of business too. Always be careful about providing confidential personal information, especially banking or credit card details, unless you are certain the company is legitimate. And, if you have doubts about a caller, your best defence is to simply hang up. It’s not rude – it’s smart.

If you’re in doubt, it’s wise to ask the advice of a close friend or relative or contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, local law enforcement or the Better Business Bureau. Rely on people you can trust. Remember, you can Stop Phone Fraud – Just Hang Up!

What if I suspect that a relative or friend is being targeted by unscrupulous telemarketers?
Watch for any of these warning signs:
• a marked increase in the amount of mail with too-good-to-be-true offers;
• frequent calls offering get-rich-quick schemes or valuable awards or numerous calls for
donations to unfamiliar charities;
• a sudden inability to pay normal bills;
• requests for loans or cash;
• banking records that show cheques or withdrawals made to unfamiliar companies; or
• secretive behaviour regarding phone calls.

If you suspect that someone you know has fallen prey to a deceptive telemarketer, don’t criticize them for being naïve. Encourage that person to share their concerns with you about unsolicited calls or any new business or charitable dealings. Assure them that it is not rude to hang up on suspicious calls. Keep in mind that criminal telemarketers are relentless in hounding people – some victims report receiving 5 or more calls a day, wearing down their resistance. And once a person has succumbed to this ruthless fraud, their name and number will likely go on a “sucker list”, which is sold from one crook to another.

Also, make sure the details are reported to local law enforcement, the Better Business Bureau and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. In addition, add your phone numbers (including your cell and fax) to the Do Not Call List – at www.dncl.gc.ca. It isn’t perfect but it does help.

Internet and E-mail Safety (and security)

In this blog, let’s look more closely at internet and e-mail scams and security.

Internet
Knowledge is power – and never truer than when surfing the net. The most common risks are viruses, key-stroke recordings, miscellaneous malware and Trojan horses.

Viruses do the same thing to your computer as they do to us – they make it sick; they can even kill it. Key-stroke recording software is installed by hackers and allows them to record all of your keystrokes with particular attention to usernames and passwords – they love banking, credit card and email access the most. Malware is also malicious as it can take many forms: from tracking your internet use patterns to copying files to a remote computer to erasing key pieces of software. Trojan horses get uploaded and then sit in wait – silently for a triggering date or event and then allow the hackers to take control of your computer and use it for attacking other computers.

The only 100% protection against these threats is don’t surf the net! Now let’s get into reality – hardware and/or software firewalls together with anti-virus and anti-malware software.

Hardware firewalls are called routers and they act as a first line of defence between the internet and your computer and are relatively inexpensive to acquire and are not very complicated to install. Software firewalls are generally a second layer of protection after the hardware firewall. Most reputable commercial ISPs (Internet Service Providers) provide this as part of their customer offering and may reside either on their servers or on your computer.

Anti-virus and anti-malware software is sold by several companies (Norton, AVG, Kasperski, F-secure and MalwareBytes to name but a few). Most suppliers offer free versions of their protection suites but remember if it is free, there is a reason! They are in business to make money and the free versions are teasers only. They do help of course, but don’t provide complete protection, so beware of freebies! Running “in the background” on your computer, they analyse every attempt at both inbound and outbound communication over the internet for suspicious software code and either block or delete access to outsiders. You can control all of these functions through a “control panel” that is installed with this software.

Be very selective on the websites that you visit. Some categories are higher risk for spreading these problems than others – dating sites, erotic picture and video sites together social media are the greatest sources of problems – avoid them!

E-mail
Rule No. 1 – if you don’t know the sender or you didn’t sign up for any e-mail notifications from stores or websites, DON’T OPEN IT! The “Nigeria” scams and grandchild scams are run constantly on e-mail as are Lottery scams of various types.
Rule No. 2 – see Rule No. 1.
Rule No. 3 – ensure you have a full-version of both anti-virus and anti-malware software installed on your computer that gets automatic signature updates – preferably daily – to stop evolving threats. If you follow these 3 rules, you are going to be safe 98% of the time.

The final 2% is chain-mail – the electronic version of old chain-letters – if you get one, regardless of the identity of the sender, do not forward it – even if it is from a close relative or friend – don’t!

General
A great reference book on scams is from the Competition Bureau of Canada – The Little Black Book of Scams – click here to get there immediately. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has a website that is all about various scams and identity theft. Click here – Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre Home Page.

And a Happy New Year to all!

, T-bnAs we finally close 2012, there are many things on which we can reflect. The sad, the inexplicable, the disappointing and yes, some good things too – from an investment perspective anyway!

Canadian banks and other financial institutions, despite a credit downgrade late in the year, are among the safest in the world and investors continue to benefit from holding their preferred shares, common stocks and various debt instruments. The same appears true for the utility industry, despite the contretemps of the Northern Gateway (or maybe Arctic Gateway or Eastern Gateway) oil pipeline in Canada and the US side of the Canada/US Keystone XL pipeline project. Oil is a key utility input in all of it’s many forms as is natural gas. I will stay out of the debate on fracking!

The world needs power – from any and all sources so I believe that for long-term holdings, exposure to this part of the economy is important. Short-term, be prepared for some storms in all of the energy sector, and I suspect they will all be of a political making. So some inclusion of energy and utlities makes some sense – the amount you include depends on your investment comfort level and time-horizon.

Communications in all of it’s forms will continue to grow although I suspect it too will be choppy due to anti-trust, patent issues and regulatory meddling on one level or another. Manufacturing and transportation industries should experience reasonable grow as I believe that deficit and national debts will gradually be controlled allowing economies to begin expanding again.

Whether doing your equities on a do-it-yourself basis or using some form of managed funds or ETFs, I would be staying blue-chip common shares and preferreds particularly for the risk-adverse.

Short-term interest rates (10 years and less), I believe will stay within about 1% to 1.5% of curent levels, which is positive for everyone including companies loooking to expand their operations. If doing things on your own, I recommend GIC or GIA ladders and if you are going the managed fund or ETF route, then I would be looking at average term-to-maturity south of 10 years and only A or better ratings – BBB if you feel adventurous.

On the pure cash side of things, whether in a bank account, T-bill account or some life insurance cash values, it seems to make sense to hold somewhere in the 5% to 7% range – both for protection and any buying opportunities that present themselves.

On Precious Metals – flip a coin! From everything I can find, the “experts” are about evenly divided on direction and potential upside/downside movement. Some level of exposure would seem reasonable if you can tolerate the earthquake-style market reactions but for these I would personally stay on the managed money side and look for broad diversification across countries keeping in mind political situations and I wouldn’t be comfortable holding more than 4% to 5% and only then if I was looking in the 10 plus-year holding range.

Think positive about yourself and your family, keep personal debts going DOWN and by wise in your discretionary spending in 2013!