Online safety / May 01, 2020

COVID-19 scams: be aware and stay safe

Nimmi Kanji

Nimmi Kanji

Director - Social Purpose Programs, For Good and TELUS Wise

COVID scam article working and spending time with baby

During this time, there are so many positive examples of the world coming together in ways that it never has before. Despite the need for unity, cooperation and compassion, unfortunately, there are still people trying to take advantage of our collective vulnerability. As the majority of us are using technology to stay connected to loved ones, up-to-date information, entertainment and fun distraction, hackers and fraudsters are trying to exploit our increased screen time.

According to City News Toronto, since March 6, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) has had more than 500 reports of scams linked to COVID-19. More than 90 victims have lost money, been hacked or had personal information stolen. And there are likely many more, as most people often don’t report.

Identifying scams

The majority of fraudsters are preying on widespread health or financial vulnerability, most commonly posing as legitimate government or health authorities.

COVID-19-related scams fall into six main categories including:

  • Phone: someone who claims to be from the Public Health Agency of Canada calls to inform you that you have tested positive for COVID-19 and requires personal/financial information for a prescription.
  • Text: there have been several but the two most common have been from the Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit indicating a deposit of $1375.50 and the Red Cross offering free facemasks. Both scams ask the recipient to click on a link and provide personal information.
  • Door-to-door: fraudsters knock on your door offering home tests for COVID-19, which do not actually exist.
  • Fake charities: “charitable entities” contacting people via email or social media soliciting donations.
  • Fraudulent emails knowing as phishing: apparent Government departments requesting updates to information or offering a financial refund/assistance.
  • Merchandise: fake or deceptive ads selling low quality, in-demand items (hand sanitizers, cleaning products, facemasks) at inflated prices.

CTV News in Montreal recently did a story about COVID-19 fraud and referenced the work being done by Autorite des marches financiers (AMF). Recent scams reported to AMF include:

  • Internet and social media offers to invest in companies claiming to be involved in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.
  • Soliciting job seekers for fake positions on LinkedIn, Facebook, Craigslist and Kijiji.
  • Unsolicited emails and/or texts regarding investments or personal finances with malicious links.

Targeting seniors

Seniors are especially at risk during this pandemic. To protect against infection, the majority of seniors are isolated in their homes (sometimes alone). Scammers are seeing this as a prime opportunity to target them even further.

In an April 17 story, City News Toronto spoke with Laura Tamblyn-Watts, the CEO of CanAge, a national seniors advocacy organization. According to Tamblyn-Watts, 92% of seniors live at home, and one in five are subject to elder abuse, which includes frauds and scams.

She goes on to note that seniors that have fallen victim to a scam are often targeted multiple times because their information is sold to other criminals.

Protecting yourself

With so much information coming at us, and so much to manage – working at home, home schooling, grocery orders, self care and more – our vigilance can slip. It’s not surprising really. None of us has ever experienced anything like this before, and we are all just doing our best.

That said, there are some simple things to remember to keep yourself and your family digitally safe during these unprecedented times.

1: Be certain before engaging: if you don’t recognize the number, don’t answer; if you don’t know the sender with 100% certainty, don’t click on the link; if you aren’t expecting a delivery, don't answer the door. Just taking a few extra seconds to evaluate who is contacting you can help you avoid scams.

2: Be proactive: instead of clicking on links coming to you, seek out health and financial information from trusted sources including the Government of Canada and the World Health Organization. If you’re considering making a donation to a newer charity established in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, confirm the charity’s registered tax number online or by calling the Canada Revenue Agency’s Charities Directorate at 1-800-267-2384.

3: Report anything suspicious: if you have been solicited for a scam or have fallen victim, stay calm and report it to authorities. Your experience can help to protect someone else. Call your local police and/or report it to the CAFC online or by calling 1-888-495-8501 (Monday to Friday, 10am to 4:45pm EST) With more time online and more on our minds, we can be more vulnerable to fraud and well-crafted scams. Before you open, click or share, take a moment, take a breath and take stock of what’s on your screen. Trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel or look right, it probably isn’t.

From all of us at TELUS Wise, we hope that you and your families are continuing to stay home and stay safe, healthy and secure during these uncertain times.

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