Common Scams

Shady contractor

There are risks involved when hiring a contractor, so skipping some of the bases and crossing your fingers when hiring a contractor is not an ideal approach.

Red flags to watch for:

  • Unable to verify references
  • A vague or non-existent contract
  • A too good to be true price
  • Asking too much money upfront and/or in cash
  • Running into unforeseen problems
  • No insurance
  • No license

Wire Fraud/CEO Fraud

CEO Fraud is a scam in which cybercriminals spoof company email accounts and impersonate executives to try and fool an employee in accounting or HR into executing unauthorized wire transfers.

Red flags to watch for:

  • A spoofed sender domain (the scammers email will have a slight variation)
  • An “Urgent” Email subject requesting immediate fund transfers
  • Always verify the credibility of the request in non-email methods (phone, text messages…)
  • Instead of clicking on Reply, use the Forward feature and type in or select from your contacts list the e-mail address of the person you’re replying to. This is to ensure that you are not replying to a spoofed address. 
    • Educate employees about these scams to lessen their risk.

Online employment scam

Internet fraud is rampant, and scammers prey on job seekers especially since a lot of Canadians have lost their jobs due to COVID-19. Your best defense is to do your research.

Red flags to watch for:

  • You didn’t contact them they contacted you
  • The pay is great
  • You get the job right away
  • Online interviews via Messaging services
  • You are asked to provide confidential information
  • They will send you a large check to purchase goods required for the job and ask you to deposit the cheque into your bank account and proceed to send money via transfers, bitcoin, prepaid cards or western union.

Online pet scam

Puppy or kitten scams are a growing problem across the country as fraudsters look to take advantage of lonely animal lovers during to COVID-19

Red flags to watch for:

  • Low prices
  • Repeated attempts to draw more money from the buyers (insurance, travel crates, vaccines….)
  • A legitimate breeder will have a well-established website
  • Confirm whether photos of your future family member are authentic by drag-and-dropping the picture into the Google Images search box. “If you see that it’s coming up on different websites, or a lot of classified ads, that’s a big red flag

Online purchase scam

Counterfeiters use websites that have the same look and feel as a legitimate manufacturer to sell products at big discounts. The products are far inferior and could pose significant health risks. For example, counterfeit jackets have been found to contain bacteria, fungus and mildew.

Red flags to watch for:

  • Warnings posted online
  • No customer phone number or email listed on the website
  • An odd or different name on your credit card statement
  • The transaction is in different currency
  • The product packaging has no labels
  • The quality of product is bad
  • The price is hugely discounted

Scam using the bank accounts of high school students


The suspects approach young people and convince them to loan out their bank card and PIN.  They are offered financial compensation in return for the loaning of their card. The suspects will then deposit the proceeds from another fraud into the young person’s bank account and immediately withdraw the money. 

Banks will normally determine that the deposit is a fraud and the card holder will be responsible for the money that was withdrawn.

Card holders are recruited through acquaintances or through social media sites. The target audience for this scam is high school students with bank accounts. Peer pressure is used to recruit them as well as the promise of easy money.

Parents are encouraged to discuss this scam with their children and emphasize the fact that:

  • You are responsible for everything that goes on in your bank account
  • Do not give out your bank card or PIN to anybody
  • There is no way to get “free” money

If you believe you or your child is currently in the middle of a similar scam, contact your bank and have your account frozen immediately.

Apartment and Parking Space Rental Scam

The Ottawa Police Service Organized Fraud Unit would like to warn the community of two ongoing rental scams.

The first one is an Apartment Rental Scam where future tenants view photos of a place they would like to rent via online platforms. They make contact with the fraudster who tries to gain the victim’s trust while using pressure tactics about other interested tenants and a monthly rent below market value, which adds pressure to sign promptly.

Both enter into a lease negotiation and the fraudster will either require a deposit (half a month to two month rent) by e-transfer. The victim then attends the location on a set date and time and finds out that the unit is currently rented.  Victims of this scam include international students, out-of-town citizens and Ottawa residents.

The second scam is known as the Rental Parking Scam where fraudsters will respond to a person’s online advertisement looking for parking or offer a parking spot via online platforms. The price and leasing agreements are negotiated and a deposit is requested via e-transfer to the suspect. 

In some cases, victims only found out about the Parking scam when they started using the parking spot and received a warning from the true parking space owner. This scam has mainly occurred in the central part of Ottawa.

Ottawa Police is concerned that there are other victims who may have also lost hundreds if not thousands of dollars with these scams. If you have been a victim, please report the incident online

False claims about the quality of municipal drinking water

The City of Ottawa warns residents to be aware of door-to-door salespeople making false claims about the quality of city drinking water. These individuals have been known to approach residents to sell water filtration or treatment systems and provide incorrect information pertaining to water quality. 

Ottawa's drinking water has been rated by the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) as being among the safest in the world. The City has an extensive drinking water quality analysis program

Residents are reminded that:

  • City employees do not contact residents to sell products or services
  • Except for emergency situations, home access is scheduled in advance
  • City employees carry identification at all times - you have the right to ask for ID
  • City employees always travel in City of Ottawa logo-identified marked vehicles 

Should you have concerns or wish to report suspicious visits or calls, please contact 3-1-1.

Email Scams (Phishing)

While advances in technology have helped improve security over the Internet, it has also provided criminals with a new avenue for crime. One of the more prevalent forms of cybercrime, is the practice of "phishing" or "brand spoofing", which are fraudulent emails that attempt to have you reveal private information. Some of the more common reports include emails that claim to be from Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) or various banking institutes.

To learn more about these types of scams, visit the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. They provide excellent information on the most common scams in operation today. You can also report scams to them direclty.


Advance Fee Scams

Have you received a letter or email, from a person or corporation, offering you a job or the opportunity to quickly earn large sums of money? Beware the "Middle Man Scam" (also known as the "Job scam" or "419 Letters", "West African Letters", or "Nigerian Letters"). Shortly after replying to the initial offer, you will receive a business cheque, payable to you. The cheque will be accompanied by a letter urging you to negotiate it as quickly as possible and return their share of the proceeds. In reality, the 'cheque' is actually a forged document and absolutely worthless. It will be detected by your bank and your account will be charged the full amount. Any money you will have sent to the fraudster will also be lost. If you've been targeted by this scam, contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

Avoid being a victim of this scam: Do not reply these types of requests. 

Cheque Overpayment Scams

If you're placing an advertisement (newspaper, internet or otherwise) and a potential buyer/renter contacts you, beware the "Overpayment Scam": usually the buyer claims to be out of town when a cheque arrives and it is written out for a substantially higher amount than the agreed price. They advise you that there was some sort of accounting error or mistake and they ask that you take the correct price and send them the remaining funds. Sometimes they even tell you to accept some extra money "for your trouble". The cheque is actually a forged document and absolutely worthless. The bank will hold you accountable and in addition to the item for sale, any money will you will have sent to the fraudster will also be lost. If you've been targeted by this scam, contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

Avoid being a victim of this scam: Don't accept money by wire transfers or cheques when buying/selling goods online. If you must accept a cheque as a method of payment, please see our tips on avoid common fraudulent cheque pitfalls or visit the Craigslist or Kijiji websites for more information on common scams and staying safe. 

Charitable Organization Scams

There are many legitimate charitable organizations doing wonderful work in our communities and around the world but beware the "Charity Scam". Often associated with sad stories, these scam artists will usually use pressure tactics to push you to give on the spot and sometimes even sign up for monthly donations by credit card.

Avoid being a victim of this scam: Before you donate, do some research on the organization to be sure. Refer to the Ottawa Police Charity Checklist for a list of precautions to take when donating to an organization. The Canada Revenue Agency also has excellent information and tips on ensuring your dollars are going where you want them. If you have been a victim of this scam, file a report at 613-236-1222, ext. 7300 or visit any Ottawa Police station.

Lottery Scams

There is a large number of lottery offers advising consumers that they have won a prize but if it sounds too good to be true, than it probably is. Beware the "Lottery Winner Scam". Many prize pitches are actually designed to get you to pay money for a prize that never comes, or is of no value.

Avoid being a victim of this scam: Carefully examine the terms and conditions of any lottery before entering and remember, you can't win a lottery/prize that you never entered!

Computer Virus Scams

Received a phone call or an email from someone claiming to work for a software company? Sometimes this scam comes in the form as an online warning from police detecting "illegal information/documents" on your computer. Beware the "Antivirus Computer Software Scam". The scammer will try to convince you to pay for a service to rectify the alleged computer problem and will sometimes persuade you to grant remote access to your computer.

Avoid being a victim of this scam: A computer software company will never contact you this way. Don't reply to these warnings. If you are really experiencing problems with your computer, consult a reputable company on your own. Never give out your credit card number to an unverified source. 

Romance Scams

As online dating becomes more common, incidents of romance scams are on the rise. Beware the  "Romance Scam": scammers use online dating sites to contact victims. After communicating for some time, they gain a victim's trust and use that trust to request money or ask you to assist them in committing fraud. If you've been a victim of this type of Fraud, report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

Avoid being a victim of this scam: More information on warning signs of a Romance Scam.

"A romance scam can break both your heart and wallet"

Loans/Scholarship Scams

Looking for ways to finance your education , pay your bills or just borrow some money? Beware the "Financial Aid" scams. Some fraudulent scholarships or loans "guarantee" immediate financial relief with little or no effort. Often, they will ask you to pay a "processing fee" in advance and then deny your application or disappear. If you've been a victim of this type of Fraud, report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

Avoid being a victim of this scam: Do some research. Be aware that in reality, financial assistance is never guaranteed. Also, scholarships or awards will not ask for a "processing fees" but they almost always require that you submit a detailed application, sometimes even with a written essay.

Tax and Revenue Canada Scams

Over the years, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has noted an increase in tax related scams. Recent victims have said they have received calls or text messages from someone claiming to be from the Ottawa Police or calling on behalf of the CRA and recent calls have involved threatening or aggressive and forceful language to scare them into paying a fictitious debt.  Sometimes callers have even been reported saying there is a warrant for your arrest by police. Beware--these calls are fraudulent and could result in identity and financial theft. More information on common CRA scams.  If you've been a victim of this type of Fraud, report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. If you want to confirm the authenticity of a CRA telephone number, call the CRA directly at 1-800-959-8281.

Emergency Scam

An increase in the number of complaints from senior citizens has brought attention to various telephone and online scams known as the "Grandparent Scam" or "Emergency Scam". A typical case involves an elderly person receiving a phone call from someone claiming to be his or her grandchild. The caller says they are in some kind of trouble and need money immediately (often it's a car accident, trouble returning from a foreign country or they need bail money). They usually ask the grandparent not to tell their mom or dad.

Avoid being a victim of this scam: Verify the person's identity before you take any steps to help. Find out more about crime prevention for seniors.

Blessing Scam

The "Blessing Scam or the Chinese Evil Spirits Scam" appears to target elderly Chinese women. The premise of the scam is that multiple suspects claim to be doctors and can help cleanse them of evil spirits. The victim is then instructed to bring valuables such as gold, jewelry and cash in a bag to the suspects, which are then turned over for a "blessing". The victim's bag is returned, empty. This scam appears to be well organized.