Six ways to protect yourself from COVID-19 scams

Mar 31, 2020 | Sean Lough


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From physical distancing to financial markets, the events surrounding COVID-19 are truly unprecedented and disrupting the daily lives of Canadians.

But during unusual times, it’s important to protect not only your family’s health, but also your finances. Situations like COVID-19 can make people more vulnerable to scams, and therefore more attractive to scammers.

Here are six COVID-19 scams to be aware of and stay safe

Scam #1: Phone

Fraudsters will call unsuspecting people, pretending to be from the Public Health Agency of Canada, stating they have results that the individual has been tested positive for COVID-19. They then trick the individual into providing personal and financial information to pay for a prescription.

How to protect yourself: If you receive a call from an unknown number, it is best not to answer it. If answered, do not provide, nor confirm personal or banking information over the phone unless you can validate that the caller is legitimate.

Scam #2: Texts

Fraudsters send text messages, pretending to be the Red Cross, providing a link to obtain a free face mask.

How to protect yourself: The Canadian Red Cross has confirmed that it is not sending out any text messages or emails for free masks. Should you receive a text message stating they are the Canadian Red Cross, keep yourself safe and don’t click on any link, and don’t reply to the text message. Simply proceed to delete it immediately.

Scam #3: Door-to-door

Fraudsters are going door-to-door saying they are doing home tests to detect COVID-19. This can result in: trying to sell fake tests, unapproved drugs — or even worse — a home invasion.

How to protect yourself: There are currently no such home detector tests available. Only hospitals can perform the tests and no other tests have been approved by public health. Do not answer the door to someone who is trying to sell you anything or pretends to be from the public health system.

Scam #4: Fake charities

Fraudsters are setting up fake charities, pretending to be the Canadian Red Cross or other well-known charities, and are reaching out to people via email or social media to trick them into donating money to help people affected by this crisis.

How to protect yourself: Verify publicly available information about the charity, including its name, address and telephone number. A legitimate charity will provide information about the charity’s mission, how your donation will be used and proof that your contribution is tax deductible. You can also ask the charity for their registered charitable tax number and confirm the charity’s registration information by calling 1-800-267-2384.

Scam #5: Phishing emails

Fraudsters can send COVID-19 phishing emails pretending to be from a Government Department to provide an “urgent” update or financial refund. These often trick people into opening malicious attachments or ask them to confirm personal and/or financial information.

How to protect yourself: Do not open emails from unknown senders, and do not click any links that are suspicious. Instead, visit the official website from the Government Department to obtain more information.

Scam #6: Job scams

Many fraudsters will take advantage of people looking for work. Common scams involve hiring individuals to be “financial agents” or “mystery shoppers,” who receive money into their personal bank accounts and are either required to forward money on to someone else, or return remaining funds (i.e. after making requested purchases) to the fraudster. Because the original funds received were counterfeit, the victim will be on the hook for the money they sent (and could even be flagged for money laundering).

How to protect yourself: Before applying for a job, be sure to verify the company is legitimate. A simple online search can validate the company exists. Also, keep in mind that an authentic job won’t ask you to pay out-of-pocket expenses before an interview. Finally, never send your bank account information to anybody you don’t know or trust.

If you are victim of any COVID-19 related scams, be sure to report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. This information could prevent someone else from being a victim of fraud and helps identify new types of COVID-19 related scams.

You can reach the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) at 1-888-495-8501 from 10:00AM to 4:45PM Eastern Time.

For official information on the Coronavirus, please visit:

  • Public Health Agency of Canada: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
  • World Health Organization: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak

Sources:

Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre https://antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca/features-vedette/2020/covid-19-eng.htm

CBC https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/coronavirus-scams-canada-1.5501958

Sean Lough is an editor and writer who's worked with Bloomberg, WSJ.com, MarketWatch and Seeking Alpha.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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