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A man stands next to a Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre sign.

COVID scams can look convincing, RCMP warns

Jeff Thomson of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre advises people to "slow down" and "don't react" when asked for personal information or money from an unsolicited request. Credit: RCMP


Canadians should use extra caution to avoid becoming the victim of a COVID scam.

Jeff Thomson, a senior RCMP intelligence analyst with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), says phishing scams have been very common. He says Canadians have received thousands of emails and texts that look like they are from the Government of Canada asking for personal information.

But federal departments and agencies do not solicit personal information via emails or texts.

Thomson says if Canadians feel they're on the verge of being victimized to "take a step back" and reach out to a trusted person or an official source for advice.

"If you have any doubts about something, slow down, don't react, don't engage," says Thomson, who estimates that $7 million have been lost to COVID-related scams in Canada.

Throughout the pandemic, employees at the CAFC have been tracking COVID-related fraud across the country. More than 9,700 Canadians reported falling victim to a scam between March 6, 2020 and Jan. 31, 2021.

Thomson says the best way for people to protect themselves is to not respond to unsolicited emails, texts or phone calls with urgent or coercive demands. He adds that offers or deals that sound too good to be true are usually fake.

Some examples include bogus COVID testing kits and deceptive ads selling in-demand items such as hand sanitizers and face masks. There are even fake COVID vaccination emails that trick people into opening attachments or clicking links that expose their device to theft of data or personal information.

Some fraudulent emails that appear to be from the Government of Canada prompt recipients to complete forms and provide personal and sensitive information, like their bank and health card numbers.

Thomson also warns of stock scams that entice people into investing in firms that claim to make products such as personal protective equipment, but don't actually exist.

With more Canadians at home and online, Thomson says fraudsters have been presented with a unique opportunity to exploit people's insecurities.

"People are feeling alone, they've lost their social network and many have lost their jobs so they're vulnerable," he says. "But they need to reach out, stay connected so they can talk to others about what's happening in their lives."

Thomson's one piece of advice: Don't feel pressured into providing personal information or money.

But if someone suspects they've become a victim, Thomson says they shouldn't feel embarrassed to report fraud to the police or the CAFC.

"These frauds, unfortunately, aren't going away and we encourage people to talk about their experiences to help spread fraud awareness," he says. "We also encourage reporting to get information that helps us understand the current fraud landscape and help track the fraudsters."

This short video uses motion graphics and text to present tips on scams and how to avoid them.

Transcript - Don't be fooled by scams


Motion graphics illustrating the signs of a scam and how to avoid them.

(Text on screen) Scams are made to look and sound legitimate.

Two credit cards attached by fish hooks drop down.

(Text on screen) The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre wants you to watch out for these red flags:

A smartphone rings with an urgent message. An open laptop computer sits next to it.

(Text on screen) A phone call, email or text with a threatening message, like being arrested.

A worried-looking woman holds her phone with vibration bars showing the caller is shouting at her.

(Text on screen) An email or text that appears to be from a government agency and pressures you for personal information.

A man with grey hair sits at his computer holding his health card or credit card.

(Text on screen) Any message that asks for money via cryptocurrency, gift card or wire transfer.

A woman purchases a gift card at an electronics store.

(Text on screen) Think twice before reacting.

A man pauses and looks concerned as he reads a message on his phone.

(Text on screen) Reach out to a trusted person or an official source for advice.

Two screens appear. On the left, a woman with white hair talks on her phone. On the right is a younger man feeding his baby while talking on the phone.

(Text on screen) If you've been victimized, call your local police and the CAFC.

A young worried woman waits on the phone.

(Text on screen)
Royal Canadian Mounted Police / Gendarmerie royale du Canada signature
© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, as represented by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 2021.

(Text on screen)
Canada Wordmark

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