Scammers taking advantage of COVID-19 fears, police warn

Police in Ontario are warning about nearly a dozen common scams that criminals are running amid the COVID-19 pandemic, from fake test results to claims that duct-cleaning can stop the spread of coronavirus.

Ontario Provincial Police track fake testing scams, threats to cut off power

Suspicious text message on your phone related to COVID-19? It could be the work of scammers, Ontario Provincial Police are warning. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Police in Ontario are warning the public about nearly a dozen common scams being run amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ontario Provincial Police said in a news release that fraudsters are "taking advantage of citizens' fear" for their own profit, and that they're doing it in a variety of ways.

Here are just a few of the widespread scams that the OPP and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) are warning about Wednesday:

  • Companies offering fake COVID-19 tests and selling unproven drugs to treat symptoms.
  • Scammers impersonating the Public Health Agency of Canada to glean personal information and credit card numbers.
  • Cleaning companies claiming their duct-cleaning can protect people from COVID-19.

The OPP says that in most cases, the fraudsters try to take advantage of people's sense of urgency. In one scam, the perpetrators pose as local or provincial hydro companies threatening to shut off power amid the pandemic due to nonpayment. 

In another scam, people are told they've tested positive for COVID-19 and are urged to provide their health and credit card numbers to fill a prescription.

"From spoofed government, health-care or research companies to unsolicited calls, emails and texts giving medical advice or requesting urgent personal information, scammers are looking at gaining information about you during these times," police warn in the release.

The CAFC has been warning Canadians for weeks to stop and think before sharing any personal information over the phone or online. The RCMP, meanwhile, advise people to check with friends, family or official government websites before offering up information. 

Here are some key facts to keep you safe from scams:

  • Only hospitals and public health agencies are authorized to perform coronavirus tests, and will not charge. No other tests are genuine or guaranteed.
  • Real public health officials will not ask for your credit card information.
  • If you want to donate to the Canadian Red Cross, or a similar charity, seek out its official website rather than responding to a text message claiming to be from the organization. 

For more information on how to protect yourself, check out this story with advice from the RCMP:

If scammers have targeted you, please let us know in the comments below. 

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