Cyber fraud complaints in Canada took huge leap in 2020

According to new numbers released by the federal government’s Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, cyber-related fraud complaints in Canada skyrocketed in 2020 by more than one-third over the previous year. However, the centre still believes that overall, fraud is still way under-reported in Canada.

According to figures released Tuesday by the centre, Canadians and people outside the country made 30,752 allegations of cyber-fraud incidents last year, compared to 20,665 reports in 2019.

The reported cyber-related losses last year would have been over $101 million in dollar terms, which is part of the $160 million in total fraud reports filed. By comparison, the reported cyber losses alone in 2019 were just over $83.8 million.

The numbers don’t include scams looking for personal information because their dollar value can’t be estimated. In addition to overall numbers, the centre also divides reports from Canadians and from those outside the country who file complaints. For example, victims overseas trying to immigrate to Canada may report a fraudulent website that offers to assist them in the process. These websites and suspect companies claim to be in Canada.

The anti-fraud centre estimates that overall, only five per cent of victims file reports of fraud. In an interview, Jeff Thomson, senior RCMP intelligence analyst with the centre, suggested a few reasons why the figure is low. Some victims may be reporting incidents to the federal Competition Bureau, for example. On the other hand, victims of romance scams who have lost their life savings may be too embarrassed to report incidents.

COVID-19 played a role in fraud, he added, with criminals turning to phishing lures to exploit peoples’ fears to click on malicious attachments. He also mentioned the many scams related to the federal government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefits (CERB) program.

Cyber-related incident numbers at a glance

  • The top reported incident in 2020 overall was spear-phishing (1,367 reports involving 648 victims with a possible dollar loss of just under $27.9 million). Of those 648 victims, 472 were Canadians. A separate category includes reports of what is categorized as general phishing fraud (just over 3,400 reports representing just over 1,000 people).
  • The second-highest incident was romance-related scams (1,357 reports involving 868 victims with a possible dollar loss of just over $24 million).
  • The third-highest were investment scams (585 reports involving 508 people with a possible dollar loss of just over $19 million).
  • These three categories total $71 million of the $101 million in cyber-related losses for last year.
  • Of the overall fraud incidents (including cyber-related) reported to the centre in 2020, extortion led the list (17,360 reports representing 6,689 victims and losses totalling $12.5 million), followed by identity fraud (16,970 reports representing 16,970 people) and personal information scams such as phone scams (6,649 representing 4,386 people).

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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