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Canadians targeted by scams taking advantage of COVID-19 fears

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Canadians should be vigilant for text scams amid the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday.

“There appears to be a text scam going around on the new emergency response benefit,” he said during a press briefing outside his Ottawa home.

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Trudeau said Canadians should be looking at reliable sources for information on the pandemic and relief efforts, such as government websites.

Some Canadians have reported receiving texts that read: “Alert: The emergency response benefit of Canada relief fund has sent you a deposit of $1375.50.”

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The text then asks them to click on a link and give personal information to claim the money.

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The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada has also warned of potential scams.

The Canadian government website lists some COVID-19 scams that have been reported, ranging widely from door-to-door salespeople selling disinfecting products to private companies offering health services.

The website warns that Canadians should be extra careful with unsolicited calls and texts, fake charities asking for money and people selling medication or health products. Canadians should never give out personal or financial information to unsolicited contacts, it says.

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In an email to Global News, the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre said that since March 5, it has received 60 reports linked to the virus. The majority of those reports are either merchandise or phishing scams.

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For example: “The CAFC has been receiving reports in which the suspects have claimed to be with Red Cross offering free masks. In order to receive the masks, consumers are advised that they are required to pay the shipping fee.”

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The phishing scams, meanwhile, are often linked to employment insurance claims, the CAFC said.

The government’s website explains that its own resources, and information put out by the World Health Organization, are the most reliable sources amid the pandemic.

Several other scams have been reported around the world amid the pandemic.

The United Kingdom’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau has received more than 100 reports of virus-related scams, with losses totalling more than US$1.1 million. In the U.S., the Justice Department created a central fraud hotline and has ordered U.S. attorneys to appoint special coronavirus fraud co-ordinators.

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— With files from the Associated Press