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Don’t be a fraud victim—the top 3 COVID scams to avoid

November 30, 2020 Michael White
Don't be a fraud victim—the top 3 COVID scams to avoid

Throughout his 20-year career at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), Thomson has investigated countless efforts to scam ordinary citizens out of their money. But never before have he and his team seen the degree of fraudulent activity taking place since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As a CAFC Senior RCMP Intelligence Analyst, Thomson estimates that reports of fraud in 2020 have been 36% higher than last year—an unprecedented leap.

Clever criminals in Canada and around the world were quick to recognize the pandemic as a golden opportunity to rip off people and mislead them into giving access to their confidential information. Hundreds of millions of people, suddenly confined to their homes, were now vulnerable to a new reality in which their health, finances, and optimism for the future felt under attack. A seemingly legitimate email from Service Canada, phone call or text message could easily persuade many to part with their cash or sensitive personal information. 

“It’s organized crime, at the end of the day, and it’s international in scope, in many cases,” says Thomson about the level of scam technology as of late. “You’ve got a fraud starting in one country that targets victims in another country, with money going to a third country.”

Remain vigilant, because these stories rarely end well. “There are steps someone can take to try to get their money back, but in a gross number of cases, there’s often no restitution. Once your money is sent, it’s gone minutes later—it’s been moved to other accounts around the world, and it often just gets spent by fraudsters on other crimes or just lifestyle.”

COVID money schemes and what to watch out for

Here are three of the most common types of scams during the pandemic Thomson says you should watch out for. 

“You’ve been in contact with someone who has COVID-19”

Email extortion campaigns, widely known as “phishing” scams, have been the biggest category of scams reported to the CAFC this year, says Thomson. The recipient is told he or she has been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and should therefore fill out an attached form and return it to the sender (who usually claims to be a public-health authority) as part of a contact-tracing effort. These forms typically request your name, address and phone number, and sometimes banking information.

In place of an attached form, some emails ask the recipient to click a link that Thomson says is “just riddled with malware” (short for malicious software) that infects their computer with a virus. The virus is usually in the form of ransomware, which demands money in exchange for restoring the computer to proper working order, or for not exposing the recipient’s personal data.

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