Reports rising of COVID-19-related phone and email scams

Careful with your phone lines, emails and online profiles – dozens of reports from Manitoba and other provinces show COVID-19-related scams are on the rise.

Schemes have been reported with phone and email hucksters impersonating provincial health officials from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and others, asking for credit card and banking information after telling callers they’ve tested positive for COVID-19.

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A condemnation of the schemes came right from the top March 26, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau slamming a potential scam during his morning press briefing at his home.

“I’m sorry to say there appears to be a text scam going around on the new emergency response benefit,” he said.

“I want to remind everyone that the [federal] government’s website is the best place to find out about everything we’re doing.”

“There have been reports of multiple phishing scams related to COVID-19. Many are asking people for credit card information to provide medication following positive test results. This is not a call that Manitobans would receive from public health officials,” said a provincial government statement released March 26.

The province advises anyone who receives such a call to hang up and report the call to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre toll-free at 1-888-495-8501.

The schemes have spread to other provinces. Reports of potential COVID-19 fraud have been reported in every province since the outbreak began.

“Fraudsters are taking advantage of people’s current emotions, adding stress and urgency to receive money and information fast,” said a Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) press release issued March 27. SPS warmed the public not only about phone scams requesting payment or confidential personal information, but also about phishing emails requesting money or information and containing malware.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said in a press update March 25 that his provincial government would come down hard on any coronavirus grifters.

“Let me just say to those who are trying to exploit seniors and others during this time of a public health emergency, there must be a special place in hell for people like that. It is un-Canadian. It is un-Albertan. It is unacceptable and it is illegal. If we catch anybody who’s engaged in these kinds of frauds or scams, I guarantee you, the book will be thrown at them and they will face the full force of the law,” said Kenney.

According to the federal government-operated Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, potential scammers have been reported posing as cleaning and heating companies offering COVID-19-related home improvements, pretending to be the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Public Health Agency of Canada or the World Health Organization offering fake lists of nearby possible COVID-19 cases or even as charities like the Red Cross offering medical goods in exchange for donations.

Other reported scams include fake calls from government departments including malicious attachments, phishing schemes or attempts to get secure personal and banking information, emails from phony financial advisors suggesting hot stocks relating to COVID-19 or private companies selling fradulent products, offering COVID-19 tests for sale or selling household decontamination services or devices.

© Melita New Era