May 22, 2020 | By: Sandra Sherk

How to Avoid Scams During COVID

Consumer Protection | Coronavirus

Due to the current COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, it's prime time for scams and frauds. Frauds are designed to make you not think straight. So, if we're already stressed and overwhelmed due to the impact of COVID, this crisis presents the perfect opportunity for scammers and fraudsters to target their victims. 

Latest Stats on COVID-related Frauds

According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), between March 6 and May 1, 2020, 766 Canadians reported COVID-19 frauds. They also reported 188 Canadian victims and $1.2 million lost to COVID-19 frauds. The CAFC urges everyone to be vigilant, as fraudsters are looking to exploit the crisis we are currently experiencing. The following are some COVID-related scams you can keep up to date on by visiting the CAFC website at www.antifraudcentre.ca.

Scams to Watch Out For During COVID

At all times, it's important to remember that if you didn’t initiate the contact or communication between yourself and someone else, whether it's over the phone, over email or they came to your door, then you really don’t know who you're actually communicating with. So you must be cautious of anyone who contacts you out of the blue. 

Cleaning and Duct Cleaning Scams

These scammers are offering duct cleaning services to protect you and your family from COVID-19 or special air filters which supposedly offer protection against the virus. Duct cleaners have been making unsolicited calls for years, but now unscrupulous fraudsters are using this crisis to frighten you. You can contact your local health department to see if there are new products and services that can offer you and your family real protection.

Utility Company Scams

Another scam threatens to disconnect your service for non-payment and requires you to go out and buy prepaid cards and then call the "company" back with the gift card numbers. Whatever you do, don’t panic. Instead, stop and think: Why would your local utility company want to be paid in gift cards? Your utility company may already be offering delayed or deferred payments at this time to offer some financial relief to those who have been impacted by COVID-19. Find your utility company's phone number (don’t call the number the scammer gave you) and see what options they are able to offer if you are behind with payments. And never give out your utility account number or other financial information to unsolicited callers.

Public Health Agency of Canada Scam

Some people have received an email saying they have tested positive for COVID-19 and are tricked into confirming their health card number and credit card number, so they can be provided a prescription. Government agencies and other legitimate agencies WILL NOT ask for this personal information via email or phone.

One particular scam sends victims an email telling them they have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. They are then asked to fill out a form that looks a lot like an Excel form, but when users click to view the form, their computer is infected with a download that installs malicious files. It cannot be stressed enough that you should never click on a link from an unknown source.

Charity Scams

Some scammers are offering free medical products, such as face masks, in exchange for a small donation. These fraudulent charities ask you to click on a link that takes you to their spoof website, and then ask for a small donation to cover the delivery fee to obtain the “free” product. Again, their aim is to get you to reveal personal information and financial details, so they can access your money.

Financial Advisor Scams

These scams include offering a hot new stock related to the virus, or financial aid, or loans to help you get through this difficult time. Delete these emails immediately and ignore the phone calls. As always, you should only deal with financial institutions and financial advisors you are familiar with. You can call your own bank to see what assistance they are currently offering regarding deferred payments. Your bank or credit union will never call you to request your PIN.

Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) Scam

The CRA is NOT contacting Canadians to claim the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). You must apply for the benefit yourself. According to a CRA spokesperson, any direct communication Canadians receive about applying for the CERB is a scam. These scammers are phishing to get your personal information.

What To Do If You're a Scam Victim 

If you believe you have been scammed, you need to keep track of everything that took place and contact your local police. It's also recommended that you report the crime to the CAFC via their website (at this time they are unable to take the information by phone). You should contact your bank or credit union to see if you need to change any bank accounts, credit cards or your debit card. Also, check your credit report to see if there has been any fraudulent activity.

A clever scammer takes advantage of current situations; however, a clever Canadian uses complex passwords and common sense. They also ignore unsolicited calls and emails, never click on unknown emails, and they speak with friends, families and legitimate organizations to verify and learn more about these unsolicited offers.

How Credit Canada Can Help During and After COVID

Credit Canada has blogs on various topics, including information on how to check your credit report, and we've completed webinars throughout this COVID-19 crisis on topics affecting many Canadians. Check them out here, including our free webinar on Fraud, Scams & COVID.

And as always, we're always available for free one-on-one counselling (via phone at this time) to answer your financial questions, including how to manage your debt and bills during COVID and your debt consolidation options.

You can give us a call at 1.800.267.2272 or contact us online to book a free counselling session with one of our caring Credit Counsellors. Stay smart and stay safe!

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