Beware scammers during COVID-19 outbreak, warns Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says people from across the country should be on the lookout for fraudsters during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Reports of coronavirus-related fraud from ‘just about every province’ — including N.L.

Jeff Thomson is a senior RCMP intelligence analyst with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. He says Canadians should be prepared for COVID-19 scams. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says people from across the country should be on the lookout for fraudsters during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Jeff Thomson, a senior RCMP intelligence analyst, said the CAFC has received about 30 reports linked to the coronavirus from "just about every province" since Mar. 5.

Thomson said the most common is a text messaging scam, where fraudsters claiming to be from the Red Cross offer free face masks.

"They [instruct you] to click on a link, that brings you to a spoof website that looks like the Red Cross, and subsequently asks you for a donation and/or delivery fee payment, in order to get the free mask," he said.

Another popular COVID-19 scam, Thomson said, involves phishing.

"People are receiving calls, claiming to be [from] the Public Health Agency of Canada, saying you've tested positive, and asking you to confirm your health card number, your credit card number ... basically calls asking for personal and financial information," he said.

The CAFC has also received reports of fraudulent online classified ads, including one from Newfoundland and Labrador, involving counterfeit or non-FDA approved face masks, that are sometimes being sold at high prices.

Taking advantage during world events

Thomson said this is not the first time fraudsters have preyed on the public during serious world events.

"It goes back to the Hurricane Katrina situation in New Orleans, where we saw a number of charity scams pop up, and subsequently U.S. authorities having to set up a charity fraud hotline to deal with that," he said. 

Now, Thomson said, the same thing is happening with COVID-19.

"It's really a global event. It's not just isolated to Canada," he said. "We're working with our international partners, who are also seeing similar [fraud] reporting."

From an international perspective, phishing appears to be the biggest scam.

"Fraudsters [are] spoofing the World Health Organization and other health agencies around the world, sending out links, malicious emails with links to malicious sites, or attachments that are malicious in nature," Thomson said.

What to do if you're faced with fraud

When you're faced with a potential fraud, the CAFC said it's important to stop and think.

"Recognize that fraudsters are out there, they're using the phone, the internet, text messaging, internet social networks to try to spread their scams, spread misinformation, and get people to react and panic," Thomson said.

"So we need people to stay calm, and really do their due diligence."

He said to think twice before clicking on a link, talk to family and friends, and confirm everything — go to a trusted source to double-check information, like the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada, your health-care professional, or your insurance provider.

Thomson says anyone who believes they may be the victim of a scam should gather the pertinent information and contact police. (CBC)

If you do happen to become the victim of a fraud, Thomson said to keep track of all of the information.

"Make sure you have a good chronological statement of events, what's happened, and then contact your local police," he said.

"You're the victim of a crime, and your local police need to know."

Thomson also suggested that a victim should report the fraud to the CAFC — but the centre is also facing its own challenges due to COVID-19.

"It's tricky to report because our toll-free line is non-operational right now. We're operating at reduced capacity, and remotely. And we currently don't have that set up," he said.

Thomson said the best way to file a report or to keep up-to-date with the latest frauds is to visit the CAFC's website.

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Jen White

CBC News

Jen White is a reporter and producer with CBC News in St. John's, and the host of the CBC podcast One in Six. You can reach her at