Fraud and scams during COVID-19

Even with the countless examples of good deeds and the outpouring of support across communities, there are unfortunately still scammers who seek to take advantage of the public’s fears and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Most scams are attempts to get your personal information to steal your money or identity. The OPP and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre are warning Ontarians about scams. However, there are simple steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim to one of these scams.

How to spot a scam

The Canadian Bankers Association created a list of tips on how to stop phishing scams arising from COVID-19.

  • Be skeptical – If you have any doubts about an email, despite how real it looks, do not reply to the email address or call the phone number provided in the fraudulent email.
  • Be vigilant – never send your personal and/or financial information by email or text. Financial institutions will never ask you to provide personal, login or account information by text or email. Remember, if you did not initiate contact with a financial institution, you don’t know who you are dealing with.
  • Check the “From” email address – Some phishing attempts use a sender email address that looks legitimate at quick glance but is not if you take a closer look at the email domain name, especially if it does not match the organization the email claims it is from
  • Never click on suspicious links or attachments – If you hover your mouse over the hyperlink, without clicking, you can see the real hyperlink address or attachment may not match what they claim to be.
  • Protect your electronic devices – make sure that your home computer and smart phone are protected with anti-spam, anti-spyware and anti-virus software 

How to keep yourself safe

The Government of Canada created a resource with signs of a phishing campaign

  • The message asks you to share personal information – this is a red flag whenever an email, text or phone call asks you to share your personal information. It does not hurt to be cautious and check with the organization who supposedly sent the message. Most legitimate organization would never ask you to share any personal information via email or text.
  • The message involves a threat – cyber criminals need something to motivate victims to give up personal information or money, so they rely on threats such as being fined or arrested to scare you into doing what they want you to.
  • The sender is suspicious – phishing emails often come from an email address that does not match the organization the sender claims to be from so always be sure to check the sender information despite how legitimate the message looks.
  • There is a suspicious looking link – phishing emails want you to click a link in the message text that will reroute you to a spoofed website to steal your personal information. A sign of a suspicious link is when the URL does not match the organization’s website URL.
  • Something about the message does not look right – phishing messages tend to have incorrect grammar, overuse punctuation marks, poorly designed templates, have font formatting differences or logos that look off
  • Use Common sense – if something looks suspicious or sounds too good to be true, it most likely is so be on the lookout for suspicious messages regularly

List of known scams or fraud related to COVID-19

Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre provided a list of reported scams

  • *New: Someone claiming to be from Service Canada asking for personal banking information for seniors eligible for Old Age Security/Gauranteed Income Supplement and offering to sign you up for the one-time special payment. **You do not need to sign up or apply for this payment**
  • Cleaning or heating companies offering duct cleaning services or filters to protect from COVID-19 offering “special” air filters.
  • Local and provincial hydro/electrical power companies threatening to disconnect power for non-payment.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the World Health Organization (WHO) offering fake lists for sale of COVID-19 infected people in your neighbourhood.
  • Public Health Agency of Canada giving false results saying you have been tested positive for COVID-19 tricking you into confirming your health card and credit card numbers for a prescription.
  • Red Cross and other known charities offering free medical products (e.g. masks) for a donation.
  • Government departments sending out coronavirus-themed phishing emails tricking you into opening malicious attachments tricking you to reveal sensitive personal and financial details.
  • Financial advisers pressuring people to invest in hot new stocks related to the disease offering financial aid and/or loans to help you get through the shut downs.
  • Door-to-door sales people selling household decontamination services.
  • Private companies offering fake COVID-19 tests for sale.
  • Text scam exploiting people who applied for Canada’s new emergency aid program that reads “Alert: The emergency response benefit of Canada relief fund has sent you a deposit of $1375.50”  and includes a link for users to click for confirmation.
  • Texts or email messages claiming to offer free points to Loblaws and Shoppers Drug Mart by clicking a link.
  • Fake ads on Kijiji for hard-to-find items like hand sanitizers and cleaning products (e.g., disinfectant wipes).
  • Fake fundraising programs taking advantage of people’s willingness to want to help those in need. Be sure to verify the charity is registered.

Important to rememeber

  • Only hospitals and public health agencies are authorized to perform coronavirus tests and will not charge. No other tests are genuine or guaranteed.
  • Real public health officials will not ask for your credit card information.
  • If you want to donate to the Canadian Red Cross, or a similar charity, seek out its official website rather than responding to a text message claiming to be from the organization. 

What to do if you’re a victim of fraud

Recommendations from Canadian Anti-fraud Centre

1.  Collect your thoughts

Stay calm. Gather all information about the fraud, including:

  • documents
  • receipts
  • copies of emails and/or text messages

2.  Contact your financial institutions

Report the incident to the financial institution that transferred the money. If you’re a victim of identity fraud:

  • place flags on all of your accounts
  • change all of your passwords
  • report the fraud to both credit bureaus (Equifax and TransUnion)

3.  Contact the police

Report the incident to your local police and get a file number for future reference. If you find suspicious activity on your credit report, update your file with the police.

4.  Report the incident

Contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre toll free at 1-888-495-8501 or through the Fraud Reporting System.

Depending on the type of fraud, or how it occurred, you’ll also want to report it to other organizations. Report the fraudulent email to the organization being spoofed – this can help prevent other people from being victimized as companies can act and inform clients.

5.  Protect yourself from future fraud

Scammers often target victims of fraud a second or third time with the promise of recovering money. Always do your due diligence and never send recovery money.

Share any updates with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, your financial institutions and police.

Tell family, friends, neighbours and co-workers about your experience. You may prevent someone else from becoming a victim.

Other safety and security precautions to take 

How to keep your child safe online while stuck at home during the COVID-19 outbreak

Tips For Preventing Package Delivery Theft

Message from Ontario Provincial Police (OPP)

  • Wellington County Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) have received complaints about an individual impersonating a police officer and stopping people to check their “essential worker” status amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The OPP is not conducting random traffic stops to check motorists’ work status during the COVID-19 pandemic, nor are drivers required to prove they are an essential worker to police.” – Acting Inspector Paul Richardson, Detachment Commander, OPP Wellington County.
  • Those stopped or approached by an officer in plain clothes driving an unmarked vehicle are within their rights to ask for the officer’s identification or request a uniformed officer be present. Those individuals should also call 911 if they have reason to believe the person is not a police officer.