March 18, 2020 – Fraudsters try to capitalize on people’s fears, uncertainties, and misinformation about the novel coronavirus. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) warns consumers to be on the lookout for associated scams such as fake cures, phony prevention measures, and other COVID-19 frauds.
The endeavors to contain COVID-19 – the disease caused by the novel coronavirus – are keeping people all over the world in suspense. People, businesses, and communities are affected by the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, as the virus forces most people in a passive state of self-isolation, scammers get active and try to cash in on their anxiety about the disease.
Fraudsters are constantly on the lookout for new scams. They especially take advantage of people’s fear during health outbreaks because it gives their schemes a certain kind of urgency, they can capitalize on. In this connection, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) issued a warning about associated scams such as fake cures, phony prevention measures, and other COVID-19 frauds to look out for during this time to avoid falling for these scams related to the virus.
Fake cures and phony prevention measures
The CAFC warned about private companies offering ‘fast COVID-19 tests’ for sale. The agency stated that only hospitals can perform those tests and that other tests are not genuine or guaranteed to provide accurate results.
Furthermore, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Food and Drug Administration warned of companies selling fraudulent, unapproved products that claim to treat or prevent the disease. Also, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) reports about spreading offerings of preventions or a ‘cure’ for the virus on social media, in an email, or a website. The offer contains a lot of information about their fraudulent too good to be true product, including convincing testimonials or a conspiracy theory backstory.
Winnipeg police added that they received a complaint about an email scam claiming the recipient has been contaminated by the coronavirus. In order to steal money or sensitive information, the email asked for credit card information to pay for the shipping of medication.
Be cautious while purchasing products that are sold out at most stores due to popular demand at the moment such as face masks or sanitizer. The BBB issued a warning about scam websites claiming to sell face masks online. According to the BBB’s Scam Tracker reports, these phony sellers take victims’ money and never deliver anything all. In the worst cases, these sites are a way to steal your personal and credit card information, opening you up to identity theft.
Additionally, the Canadian Red Cross warned about a fraudulent offer for face masks that is circulating by text, email, and on social media, in which the sender pretended to be the Red Cross. In the statement, the Red Cross clarified: ‘This is not a valid offer and the Red Cross advises anyone who receives this message to delete it immediately. Do not click on the link or respond.’ The BBB also advised only to buy from reputable stores and websites or ‘even better, save masks for the medical professionals who really need them.’
Phishing and malicious email campaigns
The CAFC called attention to fraudulent phishing, spear phishing emails, fraudulent online ads, and other malicious email campaigns offering cleaning products, hand sanitizers, and other items in high demand. The agency recommends to beware unsolicited medical advisory emails with links or attachments.
They also pointed out that fraudsters may spoof the information of government and health care organizations to let the emails appear more legitimate. The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a warning already earlier this month that email scammers are taking advantage of the coronavirus spread by claiming to be WHO officials. In doing so, the fraudsters try to gather sensitive information and steal money from their victims.
Don’t investment in COVID-19 frauds
Fraudsters are also trying to capitalize on this health crisis by urging people to invest in ‘hot new’ stocks related to the disease. The Nova Scotia Securities Commission (NSSC) reported a complaint from an investor who was receiving a fraudulent call. The fraudster was using fear rooted in the current economic conditions to attempt to steal the investor’s money. Reportedly, the person who was calling claimed to be with the National Bank and that their investment plan was collapsing and they needed to immediately put money into their account to save it.
‘Unfortunately, in times of economic turmoil many fraudsters try to take advantage of investors’ fears to steal their money. If you are contacted by anyone with warnings about your investments or finances, never give out any information and contact your adviser, bank, or investment firm to ensure the caller is legitimate,’ recommended Stephanie Atkinson, acting director of Enforcement at the NSSC.
How to protect yourself from COVID-19 frauds
The institutions, first and foremost, recommend to beware of false or misleading information. The latest official information about the coronavirus disease can either be accessed at the Public Health Agency of Canada or the World Health Organization.
Furthermore, the CAFC advised contacting the insurance provider to answer any health insurance questions and to beware of miracle cures, herbal remedies, and other questionable offers, such as vaccinations, faster tests, etc. as well as unauthorized or fraudulent charities requesting money for victims or research. Registered charities can be verified through the Canada Revenue Agency.
Last but not least, don’t panic, be safe, and avoid scams by using necessary common-sense precautions and find reliable sources to stay informed about the virus spreads.
Anyone who thinks has been a victim of fraud, please contact the CAFC at 1-888-495-8501.
Marina Burghard writes for Canadian Fraud News about fraud-related cases, whistleblower, jurisdiction, identity theft, consumer protection, etc. – essentially about scams and how to protect yourself against this kind of fraudulent criminal behavior. She holds a Master’s degree in Political Science where her interest in criminology grew. Besides fraud, Marina’s scientific interest lies in terrorism, extremism and how to deal with it as a society.