As Canada grappled with the full-force arrival of COVID-19 in March, police were already warning the public of scammers who were trying to take advantage.
By early May, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) had received almost 800 reports of fraud connected to the respiratory virus. Those reports included 190 people who were victimized by fraudsters, resulting in losses of about $1.2 million.
The people behind frauds are resourceful and quick to jump on people's fear and anxiety about the virus," says Sgt. Guy Paul Larocque, acting officer in charge of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC). "
People are also more vulnerable as a fraud target because they have lost income or jobs because of Covid-19."
On March 11, five days after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, the CAFC began documenting fraud complaints linked to COVID-19.
The majority have come from Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta — the provinces hardest hit by the virus.
The RCMP says the fraudsters' strategies include setting up websites and using emails, texts and social media to sell fake or fraudulent products that take advantage of people's worries over COVID-19.
We're also seeing a lot of phising scams," says Insp. Lavinder Mangat, operations officer for the British Columbia RCMP's Financial Integrity Program, referring to fraudsters' attempts to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by disguising themselves as a legitimate person or business.
And we believe there are market scams where bogus stocks related to the virus are being promoted," Mangat says.
In April, British Columbia's COVID-19 Fraud Response Team and Health Canada acted on a tip from the CAFC and seized more than 1,500 unauthorized COVID-19 test kits.
The team received that information and acted on it quickly," says Mangat. "
And we were able to prevent the movement of those kits to the public."
He says the team, which was created in mid-March, shares information with municipal, provincial and international policing partners about fraud trends.
Larocque says Canadians must be vigilant of potential scams, including the following:
- Unsolicited calls, emails and texts requesting urgent action or payment, or offering medical advice, financial relief or government assistance
- Unauthorized or fraudulent charities requesting money
- Questionable or deceptive ads or offers — if it's too good to be true, it probably is
He also encourages all Canadians to report frauds to the CAFC, adding "
we need to know how much fraud is happening, the type and where it's happening so we can report it to our partners, try to stop it and educate the public."