Canadians have been under extra pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic. Does stress make them more susceptible to scam attempts?
At Interac we posed this question as it related to our work in preventing fraud. We know we have a responsibility to understand the concerns facing Canadians as they move their money through our network — as well as potential challenges to the country’s economic prosperity.
Fraud prevention is a constant fixture at the top of our list of concerns. We also know that people can make regrettable decisions and missteps in times of stress. This leads to questions we’ve been exploring: What are the risks of heightened anxiety, especially regarding fraud? And what can leaders and stakeholders do about it?
To share what we’ve learned, we convened a pair of experts in the area: Rachel Jolicoeur, Fraud Prevention and Strategy Director, Interac and Dr. Christine Purdon, Psychologist, University of Waterloo.
Watch below as they explain how Canadian consumers experience stressful events like fraud from an emotional point of view. They talk about how understanding the consumer mindset allows leaders in business and society to help citizens deal with emotionally difficult events like scam attempts (hint: don’t say “victim”) — and why Interac believes it’s so important to engage in fraud prevention education in times of extra stress.
Pandemic stress is making us more susceptible to fraud
There’s a common set of physiological reactions to stressful situations — a “threat system” that mobilizes in response to danger. “We all have a threat system and, and we need it,” Christine says. The problem is that being under threat focuses people’s attention on information that could be relevant to survival, and fear drives them toward unwise actions.
That’s how scammers can exploit our innate instincts. Though they once protected humans from predators, fraudsters now use them to prey on people — for example by playing on their fears of prosecution for tax evasion.
In general, uncertainty breeds susceptibility to fraud, Christine says. “When we’re uncertain about things, it makes it very difficult for us to relax.”
Fraudsters are devising new scams during COVID-19
As well as our fears, fraudsters have a way of playing to our needs. COVID-19 didn’t just leave people isolated, it created shortages of certain things. If something is scarce, fraudsters will pretend to have it, Christine says. That’s one of the ways they play on people’s emotions and needs. So there’s no surprise that Canadians encountered scams involving fake offers of personal protective equipment for sale during the pandemic (one of the 9 scams we warned Canadians about).
As for what kinds of fraud will we see after the pandemic, Christine has her eye on the potential for travel-related fraud. Heading away on vacation is one of the activities Canadian consumers were largely denied during the pandemic, so it’s a realm where emotions could play a role in making them vulnerable.
Our advice to the public: Stop, take stock, talk to others
In the moment: stop the conversation and take stock. When consumers find themselves in the midst of a possible fraud attempt, Christine says, they ought to pause and evaluate the situation before taking any steps they might regret.
This echoes advice Interac has given on many occasions in the past. Interac has worked with law enforcement agencies across Canada to communicate a “Stop, Scrutinize, Speak Up” approach to recognizing and avoiding fraud attempts.
The experts advise that people seek to gain a sense of control after they experience a brush with fraud. For example, that might involve educating one’s friends and family about what the scam attempt was like and what could have been done to thwart it.
Advice for leaders: Don’t stigmatize, educate
Canadian businesses and other stakeholders can play a role in the process of regaining control. People who have experienced fraud can benefit from education. This is why Interac provides education to consumers on how to recognize and avoid various types of scams (such as email fraud, for example).
That’s also why we work closely with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, law enforcement and other players to keep Canadians informed on how to protect themselves.
Perhaps the most important piece of advice for leaders? Don’t say “victim.” Christine has found that creating a sense of victimhood around fraud makes people avoid turning to others for support, and reluctant to share their experiences with others.
Neither of these helps with fraud prevention, which relies on all of us — Canadians who have experienced fraud, stakeholders and businesses — to share our knowledge and stay vigilant against scams even in times of stress.