Scammers sending texts for fake COVID-19 benefits

Residents are receiving fraudulent text messages about the Canada Emergency Response Benefit — the federal government’s temporary income-support program.

Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre warning public not to respond or click on links from unsolicited texts

Laura Ryan received this text message last week, from an out-of-province number that she didn't recognize. (Submitted by Laura Ryan)

Laura Ryan got a weird text message on her phone one night last week.

The St. John's woman said it was from an out-of-province number she didn't recognize, stating she was being sent money from the Canada Emergency Response Benefit — a temporary income-support program from the federal government for people who have stopped working due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I thought it was very strange that I haven't even applied for it — and it was for quite a bit of money," she said, noting that it was for more than $1,200.

Ryan said she knew right away that it was a scam.

"It started off with my own phone number … and then at the very end, it had a link that was just essentially a bunch of random letters," she said, noting that it didn't look like a legitimate link from the government of Canada.

Ryan didn't respond to the text or click on the link. Instead, she took a screenshot, and deleted it right away.

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But she said she worries about others who could fall prey to the scam.

"It amazes and shocks me that people would have the nerve to go around trying to take money off of people, where most people these days have been either laid off or have just been not going to work because they're non-essential workers, and everybody needs like every dollar that they can get," she said. 

Ryan is not the only person in the province — or the country — to receive a text like this.

Another resident received this CERB text scam on their cellphone recently. (Submitted photo)

Around the beginning of April, about 450 of the 630 fraud complaints that the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre had received were related to text message phishing. 

"The CERB is the big reported scam that we're seeing right now," said Jeff Thomson, the centre's senior RCMP intelligence analyst.

Thomson said there's a variety of texts circulating, asking people to click on links to receive their benefit.

He said the scammers are using different phrases, like "financial relief," "receive your benefit," or "the CRA is ready to deposit your relief fund," to try to get you to click.

"When you click on the link, you're taken to … a lookalike Canadian government website, where you're going to be solicited for your personal and financial information — so your SIN number, your name, and probably some of your banking information," Thomson said. 

"We're not aware of anybody completely following through with the request of providing personal information, but certainly people have clicked on these links."

Don't click on links, says CAFC

Thomson said if you do get one of these unsolicited texts, don't go to the link.

"Any department of the government of Canada is not going to send you a text message like this," he said.

Thomson said the telltale sign of a fraudulent text — aside from it being unsolicited — is that the links aren't for federal government sites.

Jeff Thomson, a senior RCMP intelligence analyst with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, says the federal government will never send a text message that requires you to click on a link. (CBC)

Thomson said it's important to recognize, reject and report.

"Be aware of the various methods that fraudsters are going to use to solicit you. Don't respond to unsolicited requests," he said. 

"Reject, hang up, delete, don't respond — and then … report [it]."

He said the call centre for the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre is not currently operating, so the best way to report the scam is through its website, and to local police.

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