Timmins business devastated after imposter social media accounts scam customers
The owners of The Urban Farm in Timmins have been dealing with copycat accounts on social media posing as the business and asking for people's credit card numbers. (Sergio Arangio/CTV News)
TIMMINS -- The owners of The Urban Farm in Timmins have been dealing with copycat accounts on social media posing as the business and asking for people's credit card numbers.
This comes amidst the business' giveaway campaign on its official Facebook page, which it seems the fake accounts are taking advantage of by telling people they won a prize — and need to submit personal information to collect it.
Steve Morin, co-owner of The Urban Farm, said it has been heartbreaking receiving messages from customers who fell victim to the scam and frustrating dealing with all the confusion.
"It's not nice to see people getting attacked and obviously our business is getting attacked, too," Morin told CTV News. "We tell people it's not us, we posted that if you get such a message, not to respond to it. However ... not everyone is seeing that. So it's becoming a big problem."
'Is it true or is it not true?'
Chantal Knox lives near the Kirkland Lake area and told CTV she almost fell for the apparent scam, but that her work's internet security fortunately blocked her from entering the website the account sent her.
Were she home at the time, Knox said the spam account's appearance and persistent messaging appeared legitimate and she likely would have given her personal information.
Now, though she did enter into the real Urban Farm's online contest, Knox said she likely won't engage with any social media giveaways again.
"Because of what just happened, I'm not interested in entering all these little contests," Knox said over a Facebook call. "Because is it true or is it not true? Everybody makes fake accounts and sends you messages, so you don't know who to trust anymore."
CTV News reached out to Facebook Canada about the incident and a spokesperson said in an email that one account posing as The Urban Farm has been taken down, but that more can always arise.
Staying safe from scams
The social media site has policies in place for spam accounts that look to gather money or personal information under false or misleading circumstances. Users can report them when noticed and learn about how to spot a fake social media account.
Locally, the Timmins Police Service said it has not received calls about this particular case, but communications coordinator Marc Depatie said people need to be increasingly vigilant about online fraud. In many cases, he said these kinds of scams are operated overseas and can be quite sophisticated and convincing.
"The more persistent they are, the more realistic they appear, the better success, in terms of successfully defrauding somebody, is likely to occur," Depatie said. "They gain your trust or they become rather insistent in their demands from the caller or from the person receiving the call (or message)."
The general advice, he said, is to be suspicious of messages or phone calls from people or businesses that you did not solicit or initiate. Be especially cautious, Depatie said, if you are asked for personal, banking or credit card information and use your best judgement.
Depatie said people who encounter or fall victim to an online or phone scam can call the local police's non-emergency line to report it, as well as contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
As for The Urban Farm, Morin said he and co-owner Becky Cashmore will likely decide to suspend their online giveaway to stop the confusion and limit further damage to their customers.
"No matter what we're able to do, it seems like this might be ongoing," Morin said. "For us to protect people, protect ourselves, we're just going to stop."