We’ve all received a forwarded email from a friend, containing a humorous or feel-good message, that asks us to pass it along to 10 others with the promise that “something good will happen.” And, many of us have done it. Seemingly harmless, right?

Not so, says Tim Richardson, an e-commerce professor at Seneca College. This is a typical scam and contributes to identity theft, he says.

“If you pass on a message, what you’re doing is allowing the originator of the message to collect all these email addresses, which will then be used to send out spam email,” Richardson says. “Don’t pass on jokes and messages you get from people because you’re contributing to the volume of spam that goes out there.”

Spam is one way that fraudsters try to obtain personal information, including passwords and bank information, by sending out mass emails or text messages that appear to come from legitimate businesses.

Also known as phishing, many Canadians have been tricked into sharing their passwords, social insurance number, credit card and bank account numbers. Typically, the email will claim to be from your bank or another institution, asking you to update your personal information.

According to the RCMP’s anti-fraud squad, instant messaging, social networking sites and video messaging sites also make users more vulnerable to blackmail scams from new virtual “friends.”

Law enforcement agencies have seen a rise in cases of people being blackmailed by “virtual” friends, who make demands for money with the threat of posting embarrassing or damaging information and photos of the victim online.

Protecting yourself from email fraud
• Never provide personal financial information in an email. Banks don’t ask for such information via email.

• Never click on links in emails from senders you don’t know. The link could take you to a fraudulent site where you’ll be asked to enter your PIN and other personal information.

• Never respond to emails offering money, threats of legal action, or warnings of compromised security. Delete the email and report it to Phonebusters at 1-888-495-8501.

• If you receive a suspicious email regarding your finances, report it to your financial institution.

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