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Don’t Let Tax Season Become Scam Season

Now that the tax deadline is just around the corner, many Canadians are feeling the crunch. Unfortunately, so are cyber criminals. The number of phishing scams and deceptive phone calls skyrocket at this time of the year, as identity thieves attempt to capitalize on people’s tax anxiety. We here at Absolute Destruction don’t want you sharing your personal information accidentally, whether it’s by an errant credit card statement or by one of these cons. That’s why in addition to providing the GTA with secure document destruction, we’ve compiled a cheat sheet to help you avoid falling for these scams.

Some popular scams include an email stating you owe on one of your returns, and in order to pay the difference you must follow the link that they provide. In clicking this link, you may be sent to a page that looks very similar to the Canadian Revenue Agency’s official website, as these criminals will take care to make their request look legit; but there are little clues that should tip you off.

  • The CRA will never email to you unless it’s to confirm your email for your My Account or to notify you of new mail on your My Account
  • The CRA will never email you a link asking for your contact or financial information
  • The fraudulent link in these phishing emails won’t have the CRA domain name nor will its email address come from the official agency

Another scam currently targeting Canadians is done over the phone. Someone posing as a CRA agent will call you claiming you owe a lot of money on one of your returns. They’ll use hostile language and threats of jail time in order to extort the amount that you supposedly owe. They’ll also suggest you divulge your credit card number or use a pre-paid credit card or retail gift card to pay off your debt. Like the phishing scam above, there should be clear signs that you aren’t speak with the CRA in this situation.

  • The CRA will never use threatening or vulgar language when speaking about your account
  • The CRA will never ask for your credit card information over the phone
  • The CRA will never suggest you use pre-paid credit cards or retail gift cards in order to pay what you owe on your return
  • The CRA will never leave an intimidating voicemail message detailing personal information.

What seems like an obvious scam to you has fooled a number of Canadians into giving their personal, financial information to these criminals. According to the latest studies, the number of people who were defrauded by these kinds of scams have increased. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) found that more people were targeted successfully in the first half of 2016 than all of 2015. The CAFC also believes this figure doesn’t even tell the true story, as most victims don’t report their issues.

Be wary of how you share your information at any time of the year, but especially tax season. If you ever receive an email or phone call that you think is unusual, don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. Disconnect the call or exit your email to check in with the CRA. Log onto your My Account or call the official number of the CRA. You’ll be able to verify if your tax account is normal and then alert the agency of the scam.

Stay safe this tax season, and be careful with your personal information. Share your personal information with only the CRA, and be sure to call us to destroy any obsolete tax returns.

Add comment April 19th, 2017

Shredding Gone Wrong Imparts An Important Lesson

In the past, we’ve used our blog to feature those businesses that fail to shred confidential materials to show our readers the legal consequences that this behaviour creates. Both the damage to their reputation and their bottom line are valuable lessons to anyone thinking about skipping our shredding services. Today, we’re taking a look at the other side. Sometimes individuals, companies, and governments shred when they shouldn’t in attempt to hide evidence of wrongdoing. We here at Absolute Destruction can’t condone this behaviour, but these illegal acts remind us of the importance of our work.

Though it’s been sixteen years, the Enron scandal is still fresh in our minds. Recall Arthur Andersen, one of the “Big Five” accounting firms in the US. The American holding company shredded thousands of important documents and emails in an attempt to hide their involvement in Enron’s financial decline and subsequent cover up. As Enron’s auditor, Arthur Andersen was found guilty of obstruction of justice during the trails by destroying these files illegally.

Sixteen years later, London’s Metropolitan Police are now under similar scrutiny over the way they handled an official enquiry into undercover policing. In 2014, then Home Secretary Theresa May (and current Prime Minister) requested an Undercover Policing Enquiry to inspect the Met’s practices, and within two months of her order the Met began shredding a large amount of files, documents, and other communications.

At this point in time there is no clear evidence that this shredding was part of a greater cover up, but the Independent Police Complaints Commission has begun looking into these allegations. Should the Met be found guilty, they will be facing similar legal consequences as Arthur Andersen.

Whether or not these files were shredded for the wrong reasons, the fact still remains: these cases cast a shadow of suspicion on legitimate shredding practices. Shredding, even if it’s necessary, can seem nefarious to an outsider, proving an individual or business has something to hide. It doesn’t help that popular television shows like Better Call Saul and Mr. Robot highlight the criminal ways business and individuals destroy information.

In reality, companies are required by law to take the appropriate steps necessary to protect the personal information of their customers. Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA) make shredding compulsory for any business that wishes to dispose of clients’ contact or financial information. Any organization that doesn’t follow shredding protocol can face significant fines, in addition to damage to their reputation and bottom line when their customers find out.

Shredding incorrectly is just as bad as not shredding at all, but shredding for the wrong reasons can pose a lesson for those that follow the letter of the law. When organizations are found to be shredding documents in order to conceal illegal events, it highlights the importance of safe, secure, and lawful shredding services.

As a NAID-certified shredding service, we conform to international operating standards to ensure physical documents and electronic hardware are destroyed in an official capacity. By hiring our regular commercial services, your business can prove to the public your disposal methods are above board.

If you’re ready to prove to your customers that you’re doing everything you can to protect their personal information, give us a call. Our guaranteed method of disposal is an easy and affordable way to keep your business safe.

Add comment March 28th, 2017

Protect Your Phone’s Privacy & Use Apps Wisely

If you had to guess, how often do you think you checked your phone? Would you answer ten, maybe fifteen times, scattered throughout the day just to check messages and occasionally Google something you need to know?

Unless you’re the master of self-control, these numbers are just a little anemic. In reality, the average person checks their phone 110 times a day, and it’s not always to answer a call. The devices we keep in our back pocket have evolved far beyond simple phones, and we rarely use them in that way. They’ve become our personal assistants, banking machines, and entertainment systems, and we tap at our screens to check in on our calendars, finances, and favourite games far more often than making a call.

Many of us would be lost without these apps. (Quite literally for those who rely on Google Maps to get around the GTA). And who hasn’t ignored a call in order to beat that last level of Candy Crush? Every company, website, and news agency has one. These self-contained programs have simplified online browsing by eliminating the need to navigate awkward, mobile-unfriendly sites and given us an easy button to click as soon as we want to check our schedules or the latest March Madness scores.

But these apps don’t just give everything and expect nothing in return. Every time you download an app, you’re giving them permission to use your personal information. In some cases, this exchange is totally legit — in others not so much. One wrong click and you could be sharing too much without even realizing it. That’s why we’ve created a quick guide to using your favourite apps properly.

  1. Only Download From Trusted Sources

There’s a reason why the App Store and Play Store come pre-downloaded on every iPhone and Android device. These official app stores vet all of the applications before they put them on their catalogue. Whether they’re free or come at a price, Apple and Google work hard to keep unusual or suspicious software away from their customers. If you attempt to download an app from another source, you run the risk of exposing your PI. These apps’ successful download usually hinge on disabling your privacy settings, so they can have access to things they don’t need.

  1. Question The Access They Get

Even trusted apps that come from Apple or Google can have some questionable conditions. Is there any reason why your tip calculator should have access to your media files, camera, or microphone? Maybe, and they should clearly explain how they intend to use this information. Don’t worry if you’re having second thoughts after the download is complete. You can always go into the app’s settings and remove their access from this information.

  1. Don’t Download At Starbucks

We have nothing against the Seattle coffee company, but we do take issue with their free Wi-Fi. These complimentary wireless networks may seem like a good idea when you want to post your latte on Instagram, but using them comes with risks. Unrestricted access means anyone can use these networks, and all it takes is some guile to abuse them. If you feel compelled to use these free networks, make sure you use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to conceal your online activities from those who know how to snoop.

  1. Always Accept Updates

We’ve all ignored that software update for longer than we care to admit. The time it takes to download and the subtle changes it causes to our beloved devices can stop us from making these suggested updates, but they’re offered for a reason. They solve system-wide bugs that can be exploited by cyber criminals to steal your passwords or hold your phone hostage, so if you can’t remember the last time you did, it’s time to update.

  1. Always Recycle Your Old Smartphone

With the releases of the iPhone 8 and Samsung Galaxy S8 on the horizon this year, many Canadians will be hoping to upgrade to the latest smartphone money can buy. If you plan on pre-ordering any of the phones slated for release this year, make sure you take care of your old one properly. Many people think it safe to sell or donate their old gadgets after they’ve deleted all of their files, but like any electronic, your phone retains personal information even after a system-wide wipe. That means your photos, contact information, and app data can be retrieved. If you use your smartphone, tablet, or laptop for work, you should invest in our electronic data destruction. Our NAID-approved methods destroy the chips still powering your old gadgets, so there’s no possible way to retrieve personal information.

For any of us with a smartphone, apps are just a way of life. You shouldn’t feel worried about the apps you download to your iPhone or Pixel, but you should display caution before you allow any of these programs access to your personal information. As vital as our phones have become over the last decade, our privacy is more important. Follow our tips on how to avoid exposing your data, and remember to call us when you’re ready to upgrade to a new device.

Add comment March 27th, 2017

Travel Tips In Time For March Break

For plenty of families in the GTA, March Beak is a welcome escape from winter. After the latest surprise snow storm, we can’t help but search out our fun in the sun this March. If, like many Canadians, your family has plans of going abroad this week, remember to keep your personal information away from prying eyes on your vacation. The crew here at Absolute Destruction have created a quick guide to ensure you have a safe and fun mid-winter getaway. But don’t worry if you plan on having a staycation this year. We’ve got a list of local sights to take in with your family, too.

Whether it’s the UK, Cuba, or somewhere in Asia calling your name, don’t let your destination fool you. Though most countries are perfectly safe to visit, we tend to let our guards drop while we’re on holiday. Follow these steps to make sure you don’t accidentally share more than your photos this March Break:

  1. Only bring the cards you need for your holiday: You can pack your suitcase as full as you want, but when it comes to your wallet don’t subscribe to the same philosophy. You should only bring with you the essential identification and payment cards that you absolutely need for your trip. Don’t bring your SIN or birth certificate. In the unlikely event your wallet gets stolen, these pieces of ID can be used to steal your identity.
  2. Let your bank know you’re travelling: Notifying your bank of your plans is a simple and easy way to keep you protected. Our banks routinely monitor our accounts and look out for suspicious activity. By letting it know you intend to be in another part of the world, you’ll avoid the frustration of having your accounts put on hold temporarily as your bank investigates these unusual purchases around the world. It can also help your bank catch any suspicious activity happening in your home town while you’re supposed to be away.
  3. Destroy old travel documents: Selfies and souvenirs aren’t the only things we bring back with us after a long trip. We tend to keep travel documents like hotel receipts, boarding passes, and other invoices recording our financial information. Like anything that contains personal information, these papers should never see the inside of your garbage bin. You should always make sure confidential material is disposed properly. Call us for a one-time purge to destroy these documents, as well as any other files or electronics you have in your home office.

Staying secure is pretty simple, even when you’re miles away from home, but escaping the overcast city for a tropical resort isn’t the only way to celebrate March Break with your family. This year, we’ve scoped out some local hotspots that could pose as a fun and interesting way to spend the week.

Submerge Yourself into the ROM’s Blue Whale Story

The Royal Ontario Museum debuts its Out of the Depths: The Blue Whale Story this March. The special exhibit shares the work of 2 marine biologists who recovered two of the nine blue whales that died off the coast of Newfoundland when they were trapped by ice in 2014. In addition to the 80-foot blue whale skeleton, the exhibit offers hands-on activities that explore the global decline of the blue whale population.

Check in at the Ontario Science Centre

There’s always something fun and enlightening scheduled at the OSC. This March Break highlights Biomechanics: The Machine Inside, a special exhibit that examines the way living things have evolved and continue to function in response to the world around us. On loan from the Field Museum, The Machine Inside reveals the reasons different parts of the human body work compared to other species.

Explore a National Park

This year marks Canada’s 150th anniversary, and Parks Canada is celebrating by issuing free Discovery Passes to all Canadians. Put your pass to use this March by exploring Rouge Park, the only National urban park in the GTA. You can also use your Discovery Pass to cover the admission to the HMCS Haida and the Trent-Severn Waterway marine conservation sites. Check out the Parks Canada website if you haven’t already ordered your pass.

Whether you intend to leave on a jet plane or organize a local adventure, let us know what your plans are. However you mean to celebrate the break, we hope you and your family enjoy it. And remember, get in touch when the fun is over and you’re ready to dispose of your documents.

Add comment March 21st, 2017

We Weigh In On The Top Antivirus Apps For Your Android

Mobile Antivirus Protection: Is It Worth It?

If you watched the last American election unfold, then you’re aware of the email scandal surrounding Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Amongst a variety of other reasons, she may have lost the election (but not the popular vote) because of her use of an unsecured mobile phone and private email server. It was one of the main issues Trump used to disparage Clinton during his campaign.

It’s funny how things have come full circle.

Not even a full month into his presidency, Trump is still using his personal Android when tweeting from his personal account, and recent reports have revealed he secured his @POTUS account with a Gmail address. Meanwhile, Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary and Communications Director, managed to tweet his Twitter password not once but twice.

In a world where some of the most powerful men risk security breaches, we can all appreciate the value of mobile security. We may not be the leader of the free nation, but the behaviours we indulge in on our own, less important iPhones and Androids can still result in severe consequences.

Back in November, we discussed Symantec’s Honey Stick Project, an experiment to see how quickly unsecured smartphones are found and breached. The results were staggering. Those mobiles that didn’t have any password were accessed within three-quarters of an hour, exposing personal information (like photos, banking, and social media apps) and corporate data.

But most of us understand the need for PINs on our cellphones in case we misplace them in public. It’s how we use our smartphones online that’s earning attention. As more and more malware are targeting these devices, your Android is susceptible to viruses that could expose your personal information. Google Play has seen an increase in the number of malware-affected apps on its servers. The question becomes whether or not mobile anti-virus protection services are worth it.

According to Chris DiBona, Google’s Open Source Programs Manager, these anti-virus protection services are as predatory as those malicious apps. A virus operates differently from those corrupting our Macs or Windows computers. Online security issues with our phones tend to come from malicious apps that phish for personal data — apps that you have to choose to buy and install. Smart use of your smartphone is a far better form of prevention than any anti-virus program claiming to protect your data.

As our smartphones evolve, this may change. Our Android has replaced our wallets, contact books, and photo albums, making them a huge target for those looking to extort your personal information. Until their methods of snagging this info changes, your best bet would be to:

  • Investigate apps thoroughly before you download them
  • Only download apps from trusted sources
  • Lock your cell phone with a password
  • Equip your corporate phone with a remote wiping service in case of theft
  • Use our secure electronic data destruction services when you’re ready to upgrade

By following each step, you’re increasing your chances of keeping personal or corporate information safe on your mobile. Ultimately, it’s up to you how elaborate you want to go in order to protect yourself, but it’s safe to say you won’t need mobile anti-virus protection for the time being. Just take this advice into consideration and use your smartphone with discretion, and remember to call us the next time you decide to upgrade. 

Add comment February 21st, 2017

From Your Valentine: A Look At The Love Holiday

There’s no doubt about it — Valentine’s Day is one of Canada’s most popular non-statutory holidays. Just over 80% of the country celebrated it this year by exchanging chocolates and candy, going out for a romantic candle-lit dinner, and — of course —  sending love notes and cards. As a company that sees its fair share of paper on the average work day, we can’t help but focus on these cards.

It’s called the Hallmark holiday for a reason, with as many as 1 billion valentines sent each year. But contrary to popular belief, the tradition predates the greeting card company and can trace it origins to Late Antiquity.

Early Beginnings: Roman Fertility Festival & the Christian Church

Some historians believe our modern Valentine’s Day has ties to an ancient Roman fertility festival called Lupercalia. It was held every February 15th for over 1000 years during the Roman Empire as a way to ensure a successful growing season in the upcoming spring. Priests would sacrifice animals to appease Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, but over time, the festivities evolved to include human fertility and Lupercalia became as much a festival about sex as it was to do with crops.

By the 5th century CE, what went on during a typical Lupercalia festival was deemed inappropriate by the Church. In a bid to placate festival goers, the Church attempted to Christianize the celebration by making the 14th of February Saint Valentine’s Day. Who this saint was is still a mystery to this day, as there were several clerics who shared a surname and martyrdom in common.

One priest was sentenced to death for having defied Emperor Claudius II’s decree that banned young, army-bound men from getting married. Another story suggests Valentine helped Christians escape from the inhumane conditions they experienced in Roman prisons. But perhaps what solidified the name Valentine with gestures of love is the story of one imprisoned individual who signed a love letter with “from your Valentine” to his sweetheart before he was sent to death.

A Growing Tradition: Middle Ages, Victorian England, & the Mother of the Valentine

While the mysterious figure of Valentine was cast as a heroic and romantic individual in the face of hardship, the ties between love and the 14th only grew over the years. In the Middle Ages, many people believed the day to mark the beginning of songbirds’ mating season. By the 15th century, people began exchanging valentines with their loved ones.

By the 17th century, Valentine’s Day was a popular holiday celebrated in the UK, with many people sending notes and gifts to their significant others. But we can thank a woman named Esther A. Howland for our tradition of sending cards. Known as the Mother of Valentine, she helped mass produce these cards in the 1840s, and by 1900 printed cards overtook handwritten letters in popularity.

Today’s Tradition

It’s easy to mistake the holiday as a Hallmark creation when you take a look at their stores. Decked top to bottom in red, pink, and white, the greeting card company takes advantage of this commercial holiday. It’s the biggest occasion to send greeting cards in the world, second only to Christmas. Many of us find it hard to resist, and we’ll buy these cards as well as chocolates, candy, flowers, and other tokens of affection.

Over the years you may have amassed quite a pile of these notes and presents, but we don’t recommend you throw them out. We especially don’t suggest you shred them, as only confidential material containing personal information needs our complete destruction — although you can always add them to the container to be shredded with financial documents if they’re from someone who broke your heart. For those notes sent from you sweetheart — keep them. They can be nice reminders of your relationship when you look back on these keepsakes.

Add comment February 16th, 2017

Synthetic Identity Theft & Its Very Real Consequences

We know how it sounds. How can synthetic identity theft pose a genuine concern for Canadian citizens if it isn’t real? Well, for one thing, it’s not as artificial as its name implies. Synthetic identity theft uses a mixture of authentic and fabricated information to create a completely new identity or — in some cases — even multiple identities.  Unfortunately, fraudsters using this technique typically target those who have a small credit footprint, like children and the deceased, pairing their Social Insurance Numbers (SIN) with fake names, addresses, and other details. This fusion of real and false information makes it difficult to track and even easier for criminals to get fake licences, passports, and credit card accounts — which is why we here at Absolute Destruction think it’s necessary to shine a spotlight on this emerging crime.

Children, the deceased, and anyone lacking an established credit history are at risk of becoming a victim. Synthetic fraudsters target these individuals on purpose. When the genuine identity associated with a SIN has little to no credit, it also means they likely have a thin or non-existent file in the financial world. As a result, it’s incredibly easy to open accounts with these numbers, as the owners are unlikely to check their credit reports and there aren’t any security checks put in place to safeguard against fraud.  They’re a blank slate waiting to be taken advantage of.

This tabula rasa creates the ideal opportunity for criminals. Using a real SIN and a fake name, they apply for a credit card. Though this initial application is more than likely denied, the process forces credit bureaus to acknowledge both the enquiry and the “person” behind the application. The fraudster has begun to create their own credit history that will make them more desirable by other organizations in the future.  Eventually, they’ll be able to open multiple accounts with various institutions and fabricate what looks like a strong borrowing history on paper. With that, they can visit Service Canada to create licences and passports under fake names. In the long term, a criminal will use this established identity to open and maintain accounts with higher borrowing limits before maxing them out.

Here in Toronto, it’s a growing concern for the police. In fact, Detective Constable Mike Kelly calls the fraud ‘infinite mischief’ since criminals will encounter very few limits to their scam when using a mixture of real and fabricated information. In 2013, Equifax, a consumer credit reporting agency, estimated there were no more than 200 investigations of synthetic identity theft each month. Now they estimate that number has skyrocketed into the thousands, potentially costing Canadians a billion dollars each year.

The solution to this scam, like so many other cons, is simple: keep personal information protected. Your SIN should never leave the house, nor should it ever be shared with anyone but a trusted employer, financial institution, or the government. The same goes for your children’s or a lost loved one’s information. When you’re ready to dispose of any document that records this number or any other piece of personal information — whether it’s your own or a loved one’s — make sure it’s disposed of properly with our mobile shredders. We’ll make sure it’s incinerated so no criminal can retrieve your confidential information.

Synthetic though it may be, this method of identity theft has very real consequences for its victims. Make sure you protect yourself with safe handling of your SIN and personal information. When in doubt, give us a call to dispose of your documents.

Add comment January 30th, 2017

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