COVID-19: Online and telephone crime targets anxious Canadians

The new coronavirus has increased online and telephone crime, with fraudsters targeting anxious Canadians who isolate themselves at home, in front of their computers, experts say.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Center has received more than 100 recent complaints related to COVID-19, said Jeff Thomson, senior analyst at the RCMP.

The list includes fake ads for masks, hand sanitizers or home virus tests, in addition to charity fraud, extortion and so-called phishing scams, where fake emails are sent by what appears to be a reputable agency.

“The Public Health Agency of Canada, the World Health Organization, federal agencies, the Canadian government, all of these organizations, (the fraudsters) imitate everyone who is an authority in this area,” said Mr. Thomson.

Crimes that take advantage of public fear are not uncommon, he said, noting that U.S. law enforcement agencies launched standalone charity fraud units after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Toronto police charged a man with fraud last week after being told by the US Department of Homeland Security of an intercepted package, alleging that it contained 25 tests for COVID-19.

Health-related products must be registered with Health Canada and there are no approved home tests, said Thomson.

“There is no approved vaccine, herbal remedy or miracle cure, you know. You really need to check with your source to get this information. In Canada, (source) is the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada.

The Better Business Bureau has warned that social isolation can make people more likely to be victims of crime.

Shawna-Kay Thomas of the Better Business Bureau in southern Alberta said criminals imitated legitimate organizations during the pandemic.

In Alberta, they advertise themselves as health workers and call to tell people that they have tested positive for COVID-19 and to request credit card information, she said.

Usual precautions apply: don’t answer a phone number you don’t know, don’t click on an attachment, and research where you buy products.

Tamara Humphrey, assistant professor in the department of sociology at the University of Victoria, believes that strong leadership can help prevent people from being caught by scammers.

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