The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced countless changes into our lives, including dealing with COVID-19 scams. And these changes have led to an increased feeling of uncertainty among Canadians, especially newcomers. Scammers prey on uncertainty. These scams can be believable and look legitimate but with the right knowledge, you can avoid becoming a victim to these scams.
One tactic scammers use is to falsely identify themself as a representative of the Government of Canada or related organizations to demand personal information or payment. As newcomers are likely aware of the organization, they feel pressure to respond to demands. In this case, a scammer is relying on you not knowing that an official organization would never demand or pressure you to respond to threats.
Let’s look at the most common COVID-19 scams, how to recognize them, and how you can protect yourself.
COVID-19 Phishing Scams
One of the most common COVID-19 scams is phishing scams. You might receive an email or text message that seems to be from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) or the World Health Organization (WHO). These messages can be extremely convincing and are designed to trick you into:
- Revealing personal information, such as your credit card information, birth date, passport number, etc.
- Installing malicious software that is disguised as a COVID-19 notification app or something similar.
These phishing scams can come in many forms. You can receive a phishing email or text message. You can even receive a phone call from a scammer pretending to be from PHAC or WHO. Even though these messages are convincing, there are steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim of these scams (see Tips to Help You Avoid COVID-19 Scams below).
Phishing Scams Aiming to Get Your Personal Information
The first type of phishing scam is designed to make you reveal personal information. The best way to avoid this type of scam is to be skeptical. Why would WHO or PHAC need your personal information such as a credit card number? If the message sounds sketchy, it probably is.
Ransomware is a common type of phishing scam. It involves tricking you into downloading harmful software or even getting you to open an attachment that will harm your device. This software takes hold of your device and shuts it down. The scammer will then tell you to pay them a certain amount of money in order to get your device back.
COVID-19 themed ransomware scams are getting more and more common. You might receive an email or come across an advertisement that tells you to download an app related to COVID-19. These apps could claim to notify you if you have been in contact with someone that has tested for COVID-19.
Legitimate versions of these apps do exist. Canada has its own COVID-19 exposure notification app and it goes by the name, COVID Alert. It is authorized by the government and is safe to download on your device. Any other apps you see that are trying to copy the legitimate version are probably trying to lure people in for ransomware.
COVID-19 Vaccine Scams
Ever since the start of the pandemic, people are claiming to have a vaccine for COVID-19. These vaccines are not legitimate and their only purpose is to convince you to pay for them. Scammers present these fake vaccines in such a way that can be convincing to the consumer. However, with the right information, recognizing and avoiding this fraud is very easy.
First off, vaccines are free everywhere in Canada. In fact, some provinces are even giving financial incentives to citizens for getting their COVID-19 vaccine. You will never need to pay for a vaccine in Canada. Secondly, the only safe way to get a vaccine is through locations your local government is dedicated to COVID-19 vaccination. Both these factors should spell out a big, red cross for you, whenever you come across someone trying to sell vaccines for COVID-19.
This type of scam can also extend past vaccines. Some people might claim that their products can cure or prevent COVID-19. Once you know that only the government will provide vaccines for COVID-19, you can easily avoid these types of scams. Just remember to never buy a remedy for COVID-19 from any source. The government will provide it for free.
Scammers use a lot of different techniques to get at your hard-earned money. One of these techniques is simply asking for it. Charity scams ask you to donate money to a COVID-19-related cause. In reality, the donated money is not going to the cause. Rather, it is going to the person who set up the fake charity. Charity scams are common and can extend beyond COVID-19.
There are a couple of steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim of this scam. The first is verifying if the charity is registered. Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has a list of registered charities that is updated every day. If you are not sure the charity is legitimate make sure to search the list by clicking here.
If that charity is registered, then is it a legitimate charity and you don’t have to worry about it being a charity scam.
Tips to Protect Yourself from COVID-19 Scams
- Be aware of common scams
- Do not click on links or attachments in suspicious emails
- Block unwanted calls and text messages
- Do not transfer funds to people or organizations that are not familiar to you
- Never pay via private money transfers, pre-paid credit cards, or gift cards of any type
- Never give out financial or personal information such as your Social Insurance Number (SIN), birth date, passport number, etc. by email or text.
What to do if You Fall Victim to a COVID-19 Scam
If you do become a victim of any COVID-19 scam, there are some steps you can take.
- Contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre by clicking here or call toll-free 1-888-495-8501.
- Report the scam to the authority that the scam is related to. For example, if you feel like something is wrong with your mail or you aren’t receiving any mail, you should contact Canada Post. Likewise, if you lose your passport or it gets stolen, you must report that to Passport Canada.
- Learn more about what to do if you come fall victim to a scam, click here.
With the right knowledge and a degree of caution, you can avoid COVID-19 scams. It never hurts to navigate the internet with a skeptical eye because scammers can be waiting in the most unexpected places.
For more information, tools, and free webinars about living in Canada visit our Settling in Canada resource page. We’ll help you to settle in Canada successfully!
My name is Zain Usmani and I am a freelance content writer who currently resides in Mississauga, Ontario. I immigrated from Pakistan to Canada 5 years ago and have lived in many cities ever since. I have lived in Calgary AB, Edmonton AB, Regina SK, London ON, and Mississauga ON, while visiting over 40 Canadian cities and towns. I have a great passion for writing and I love helping people through it.