Criminals prey on fear during uncertain times, OPP warns

Tips on how to protect yourself from COVID-19-related scams

ORILLIA – Members of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Anti-Rackets Branch and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) say COVID-19 related scams are ploys to extort money and personal information from fearful, trusting victims. It is also reporting that COVID-19 scams have been spreading almost as fast as the virus.

“As COVID-19 continues to spread across Ontario and Canada, fraudsters are taking advantage of citizens’ fear during uncertain times,” said the OPP in a statement last week. “Fraudsters are exploiting this pandemic to facilitate fraud through cyber crime and any other means to obtain your information.” 

Police are seeing various scenarios, but most are the typical urgency and time sensitive ploys that criminals place on individuals in order to receive personal and financial information. Many of the reports have a medical theme in order to instantly set further anxiety to gain information. 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.

According to information received by the CAFC, some of the more popular scams are: cleaning or heating companies offering duct cleaning services or air filters to protect from COVID-19; local and provincial hydro/electrical power companies threatening to disconnect your power for non-payment; Centres for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization offering fake lists for sale of COVID-19-infected people in your neighbourhood; Public Health Agency of Canada giving false results saying you have been tested positive for COVID-19, tricking you into confirming your health card and credit card numbers for a prescription; Red Cross and other known charities offering free medical products (e.g. masks) for a donation; government departments sending out coronavirus-themed phishing emails, tricking you into opening attachments or to reveal sensitive personal and financial details; financial advisors pressuring people to invest in hot new stocks related to the disease, offering financial aid and/or loans to help you get through the shut downs; or private companies offering fast COVID-19 tests for sale. Only health care providers can perform the tests and no other tests are genuine or guaranteed to provide accurate results. As well, private companies selling fraudulent products that claim to treat or prevent the disease. Unapproved drugs threaten public health and violate federal laws.

If you were using your computer when you were scammed, it’s possible a virus or malicious software was installed on your computer. Run a full system check using reliable security software. If you do not have security software such as virus scanners and a firewall installed on your computer, a trusted computer professional can help you choose what you need. Scammers may have also gained access to your online passwords or other personal information.  It is recommended that you change these using a secure computer.  

If you paid someone by credit card or through an electronic funds transfer, contact your financial institution or credit card company immediately. They may be able to stop or reverse the transaction.

If you or someone you know suspect they’ve been a victim of a COVID-19 related scam or any other scam, contact your local police service. You can file a complaint through the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre website or by phone at 1-888-495-8501.