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Gone phishing! Internet and social media scams rampant, says Competition Bureau

File illustration picture of a man typing on a computer keyboard in Warsaw February 28, 2013.

KACPER PEMPEL/REUTERS

Canada's competition watchdog is warning Canadians to be ever watchful for online scams that try to take advantage of the uninformed and the soft-hearted.

The Competition Bureau says scammers are becoming more sophisticated in using the Internet to defraud Canadians of their money and personal information.

As it issued that message Tuesday, the bureau itself said it may have been the target of would-be scam artists.

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Social-media scams are now among the most prevalent, through Facebook, Twitter and other websites where fraudsters are trying to sell fake products or rip people off.

Scammers use social-media because they can play on assumptions that users are dealing with people they trust, said Daniel Wilcock, the bureau's assistant deputy commissioner of fair business practices.

"People might be exposed to scams on Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest from friends or followers where social-media accounts have been designed solely to promote fraudulent products," said Wilcock.

But few people caught up in scams are reporting the incidents to police or other authorities.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre estimates that almost 95 per cent of fraud crimes committed in Canada go unreported.

A big reason for that is embarrassment, said Wilcock.

"You can certainly imagine types [of scams] where people are less willing to come forward," he said. "Dating and romance scams are one of those listed. People don't like to admit that they've been taken in by one of those scams."

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The bureau has published what it calls the Little Black Book of Scams, which spells out a number of ways that criminals attempt to defraud the public, sort of an anatomical breakdown of scams.

But the agency says that, for every scam listed in the book, many more regularly crop up, designed to fool people in ways yet unimagined by authorities.

The only way for police and others to keep up with the scams is through information provided by the public.

The bureau held a "Twitter party" Tuesday to highlight the dangers of Internet and social-media fraud as part of fraud prevention month.

But if the traffic during the chat is any indication, the agency has its work cut out for it in trying to keep the public informed about online menaces.

Only a handful of participants appeared to be from the general public.

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The majority included police and government agencies, consumer groups and companies involved with Internet security.

One participant identifying herself as an Ottawa teaching assistant, recalled how she received an email from "Facebook" telling her to log in.

"I was about to login as well, but I noticed the URL was strange," she wrote.

Perhaps as a message from someone that only served to prove their point, the bureau suggested that scammers may have tried to infiltrate its Internet chat.

"We recv'd a suspicious looking link via a tweet at the end of our #2G2BT chat," it said.

"A reminder that you should never open these links," said the bureau's final message once the Twitter party was over.

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