On the rise of online scams

Better check your 1s and 0s, folks

Many investment and job-related scams now begin on social media. (Supplied photo)

Pyramid schemes, grifting and scams have been ingrained into our economy, culture and social imaginary far longer than dial-up. As the digital age brings on an oversaturation of pretty much everything, there are now far more scams than one can count.

Combine that with the inflation crisis and workplaces wrestling between the pulls of “hustle culture” and “quiet quitting,” and more people are seeking an escape.

If you’ve ever been approached by someone in a pyramid scheme, you’ll recognize the familiar rhetoric and pitch: have you ever wanted to be your own boss? It’s easy money! You can turn your side hustle into your full-time job! Just buy a large amount of stock, and the sales will come!

Often, though, the products don’t sell, the stock sits in someone’s garage, and these scams end up giving recruits at the bottom of the pyramid pennies while enriching those at the top.

COVID-19 and rising inflation has caused these schemes to skyrocket, the amount of money being funneled through increasing 25 per cent in 2020 alone, under the guise of making more money working from home.

In other words, it’s frightening how increasingly difficult it is to differentiate a scam from a real job. In times of economic downturn, cons don’t disappear. They only get more complex and rampant.

The oversaturation of these schemes is leading to increasingly innovative scams. A 2022 Federal Trade Commission report shows that scammers have cashed in big on cryptocurrency. Since the start of 2021, more than 46,000 people have reported losing over $1 billion in crypto to scams.

Crypto is attractive to scammers since there is no centralized authority to flag suspicious transactions. Crypto transfers can’t be reversed, meaning once the money is gone, it’s gone.

Most of these cons begin on social media. False promises of easy money, paired with a general relative lack of understanding about how crypto functions and a distrust of traditional financial institutions can lead people to send money through crypto.

Some scammers even set up fake investment sites and apps to track “fund” performance, but it’s all a ruse. Investors never see that money again.

Even more heartbreaking for some is the increasing frequency of job-offer scams. CPA Canada reports a story that’s become all too common.

A 22-year-old woman was offered a data-entry job at clothing retailer Aritzia after going through a lengthy hiring process – only to find out the void cheque she supplied and the contracts she signed were false, and her identity was stolen.

This woman’s hours of wasted labour and disappointment are familiar to many job seekers, but no one trying to apply for a job should end up with their identity and money stolen.

According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, more than 1,400 victims in Canada lost a total of $8 million in job-related scams last year. That’s double the 2020 totals.

Many victims are too embarrassed or confused to even tell anyone when they’ve been scammed. However, people have nothing to be ashamed of when wanting a better life.

Life can be quite confusing when jobs, investing and employment searches all seem to look the exact same as scams. Shams cause shame, and they really shouldn’t. The real shame is on those who take advantage of people trying to get a job, invest and start their own business.

Paul Carruthers is the comments editor of The Uniter. He’s an alum of the University of Winnipeg’s political-science department.

Published in Volume 77, Number 07 of The Uniter (October 27, 2022)

Related Reads