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From Coronavirus-themed Ponzi schemes to fake online stores and treatments, scammers have been hard at work coming up with creative ways to steal your money and identity.
The COVID-19 crisis is the largest global pandemic many have ever experienced. Individuals have had to make major adjustments in all areas of their lives in a very short period of time. From remote work and social distancing to layoffs and debt, social isolation and financial vulnerability have increased the threat of fraud and helped create the perfect environment for deception.
“More and more people are relying on their digital devices right now to continue day-to-day activities leading to higher vulnerabilities.The most popular schemes are phishing attacks where criminals send emails seeming to be from legitimate organizations with information about the coronavirus. Instead, the links or attachments included within the body of the messages, downloads malware that takes control of your computer – and accesses your personal and financial data,” says Aisha Kitchlew, Senior Manager, Fraud Investigations and Anti-Money Laundering at ATB.
Fraud and online scams are big business. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, over $98 million was lost in Canada in 2019 to scams and fraud. And that is a conservative sum, since only five percent of cases are ever reported. When we look at statistics from the province, Service Alberta receives about 3,000 consumer complaint calls each year. The Consumer Investigations Unit closed 840 cases in the 2018-2019 fiscal year and recovered more than $1 million for consumers.
Emerging fraud scams related to the Coronavirus
When it comes to consumer fraud, there’s a misconception that certain demographics are targeted and are more susceptible to being duped. In truth, no one is immune to fraud. The reality is cyber criminals, cons and scammers will exploit any one that responds to them.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre is warning consumers about these reported scams related to COVID-19/novel Coronavirus:
Scam: Interac e-Transfer® branded phishing around a “Canadian Emergency Response Benefit” involving several financial institutions across Canada as a deposit option including ATB
Prevention: As legitimate as this communication may look, there are red flags. Check links before clicking on them. When we hover over the URL for this campaign, the URL shows “support-financecanada.xyz…” which is very suspicious as it’s not an official URL from the Government of Canada.
If the link is clicked, you are asked for personal information including social insurance number, drivers licence, credit card number and much more, which is never asked when depositing an e-transfer. Remember, your financial institution will never ask for personal information through this format.
Scam: Spoofed government, health care or research information about COVID-19
Prevention: Always fact check any communications you receive with reliable sources before sharing it. These types of communications can come through as texts, phone calls and emails.
It’s important not to click on any links, open attachments, unsubscribe to emails or give out personal information, even if they sound really convincing, threaten to close your account or limit your access. Hover over links before clicking so you can check the URL (try this safe link as a test!). If you do decide to click, confirm the URL after the page loads to ensure you weren’t redirected.
Scam: Unsolicited calls, links, emails and texts giving medical advice or requesting urgent action, payment or medical information
Prevention: Do not respond and never give out your personal, medical or financial details. Never click on suspicious links or attachments from unknown sources as they may contain viruses, malware or ransomware.
Keep your computer anti-virus and anti-malware software current. Set up automatic software updates on your devices and protect your social media and online accounts by using multi-factor authentication and strong secure passwords for each account.
Updated July 2020: Alberta Health Services (AHS) has received reports of scammers calling Albertans claiming that they may have been exposed to COVID-19 and need to be tested. The scammer will ask for credit card information, which is something that AHS will never call and ask for. If you receive a call like this, please hang up immediately.
Scam: Unauthorized or fraudulent charities requesting money for victims, products or research
Prevention: Take your time and do not feel pressured to make a donation. Ask questions. Verify the charity is registered and do your own research so you know how your donation will be used. Pay by credit card or cheque only so it can be traced.
Scam: High-priced or low-quality products purchased in bulk by consumers and resold for profit
Prevention: Purchase goods from trusted retailers as items from unknown vendors may be faulty, expired and/or dangerous to your health.
Scam: Questionable offers including miracle cures, herbal remedies, vaccinations or faster medical testing
Prevention: There is currently no known cure, remedy or vaccinations available for COVID-19 at this time. Only official health care providers can perform diagnostic tests. No other tests are genuine or guaranteed to provide accurate results.
Scam: Fake and deceptive online ads for cleaning products, hand sanitizers or other items in high demand
Prevention: Only click on links or online ads after checking the ad carefully. Watch for spelling/punctuation/grammatical errors, sense of urgency/fear tactics, imitating a known brand, location and copyright dates. Ensure your antivirus software is up-to-date, as it can detect phishing emails, malicious attachments and malicious websites.
Emerging job scams
Another scam not directly related to COVID-19 but one that we might see more of in the coming weeks is fraud actors who take advantage of people looking for jobs, where they’ll hire for jobs such as car wrapping, financial agent, virtual concierge or mystery shopper.
When you get hired, the fraud actor will get you to deposit counterfeit cheques into your bank account and redirect some of the funds back to the fraud actor, or get you to accept e-transfers or wire transfers into your account to then transfer that money elsewhere through Bitcoin. By being scammed into one of these situations, you’ll either owe money to the bank or could even be arrested for money laundering.
And more recently, the Alberta Securities Commission (ASC) is warning Alberta investors about potentially fraudulent ads by companies offering opportunities to work from home as traders in the financial markets during the COVID-19 pandemic.
How you can help prevent the cycle of fraud
Reporting an incident is vital in breaking the cycle of fraud. It helps stop scammers from defrauding others and prevent victims from unknowingly being exploited further, increasing their chances of justice and recovering lost assets.
If you think you or a loved one has been scammed:
- File a report with local law enforcement
- Immediately contact your bank or credit card company, as time is critical in maximizing the recovery of funds
- Find a reputable IT professional to clean your computer
- Install and regularly update anti-virus and malware software on your device
- Report the fraud to the Canada Anti-Fraud Centre or contact them directly at 1.888.495.8501
At the end of the day, the best defence against fraud is education. New fraud scams are emerging at a fast pace; understanding and knowing what you are up against will allow you to identify suspicious information or too good to be true offers, and take the right actions to prevent being scammed.
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