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Growing number of scams targeting Canadians amid COVID-19 fears

Last Updated Apr 6, 2020 at 4:05 pm EDT

As fears surrounding the uncertainty of the novel coronavirus continue to grow, an increasing number of scammers are using the current pandemic to take advantage of the public.

Just in the last few weeks, fraudsters have reportedly created and utilized several tricks that range from emails, texts and phone calls asking for money to more extreme measures like selling fake coronavirus test kits online.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, an organization that collects information on fraud and identity theft, have reported an increase in the amount of scams targeting vulnerable, non-tech savvy, people online.

Jeff Thomson, a senior RCMP analyst at the Anti-Fraud Centre, told 680 News that they’ve received 153 reported COVID-19 related scams since March 6. Of these reported scams, 22 were listed as victims.

Thomson says scammers preying on fears surrounding events like COVID-19 isn’t a new tactic. Fraudsters have been known to use “world news events” like Hurricane Katrina to prey on people through fake charities and financial scams, he said.

It’s these type of events that fraudsters use to take advantage of people dealing with a higher level of fear and uncertainty, he said.

“It’s preying on the fear, the anxiety that exists, the social life situation that exists,” Thomson said.

He adds that the situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic can also open up opportunities for scammers to use other scams to trick people out of their personal information and money.

“It’s not just COVID-19 scams, but this offers an opportunity to solicit other scams just because people are in that heightened sense of anxiety or fear. That heightened sense of emotion that people are more likely to react to certain offers,” Thomson said.

To educate Canadians on the growing number of COVID-19 scams, the Centre has posted a list of reported and expected coronavirus scams online on their website. 

Kelley Keehn, an FP Canada consumer advocate and personal finance educator, says one of the best ways to avoid being tricked by one these scams is to think before you click.

“Think before you open up an attachment. Do not open up anything or click on any link,” Keehn said. “If you think that there’s a government benefit, go yourself to the government website. They are not going to text you or email you benefits like that.”

Another way to avoid falling for a fraudster’s trap, Keehn says, is to keep up to date on current information from official government channels.

She adds that resources like the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, and the Ontario Securities Commission, are good ways for the public to get better informed regarding the growing number of COVID-19 scams.

The Anti-Fraud Centre also recommends the public refer to the Government of Canada web page for official information on concerns relating to the novel coronavirus pandemic that relate to issues regarding health, financial and security.

For those who have fallen for any type of scam, Keehn says it’s important for the victim to act quickly and report it to the authorities. She adds that even though only five per cent of fraud victims actually report it, that it’s still important to tell police to help stop the scammers from targeting anyone else.

“It’s very important that you act swiftly because what the fraudsters are also quite known for is that they can get a little bit of information or a few dollars from one person, they keep going back to that person and attacking them or going through their social network,” she said. “So it’s just so important that you act quickly and you report it. And that’s the only way we’re going to fight the fraudster.”

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