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Coronavirus-related scams have defrauded Canadians $1.2M: official

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Canadians have been defrauded out of at least $1.2 million in coronavirus-related scams during the pandemic, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

Between March 6 and May 1, the centre has received 766 reports related to the pandemic, with 188 of those fraud attempts succeeding.

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The scams have appeared in many different forms, from texts to phone calls to emails, the centre’s spokesperson, Jeff Thompson, said on The John Oakley Show.

He said that fraudsters are attempting to take advantage of the fear and anxiety prevalent due to the pandemic.

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Thompson warns one of the most prevalent COVID-19 scams is a text message that asks you to clink on a link and fill in your personal information, including SIN number, on a replica Canadian government website to get the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

However, Thompson says that the only way to actually get the CERB is by visiting the official Canadian government website.

“The Canadian government will not send out these types of texts,” he said. “That’s the big [scam] we’re seeing.”
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Another scam is an extortion email that says the recipient has been captured on camera performing sexual acts, and they must pay or else the video will be released to friends and family.

Thompson says scammers are also taking advantage of the demand for personal protection equipment such as hand sanitizer or face masks, as well as test kits. For example, he said survey scams may offer a free mask after completing the survey, but to receive it means entering your credit card information for delivery.

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“Effectively you’re signed up for a subscription trap,” he said. “Next thing you know you’re receiving charges on your credit card month over month.”

READ MORE: Canadians targeted by scams taking advantage of COVID-19 fears

So how do you avoid these scams? Thompson recommends to remember the three Rs: recognize, reject and report.

He says the first step is to know the kinds of scams out there by visiting the Anti-Fraud Centre website. There are also some tricks to catch scams.

For example, if visiting a website that appears to be the official Canadian government website, first check its URL. The true website will be http://www.canada.ca, whereas scam sites will be something else.

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If shopping online, make sure you are buying from a reputable company by researching it and seeing if any complaints have been posted.

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Thompson says there has been a lot of reports of some sellers offering too-good-to-be-true sales as more shoppers are turning online, but items are never delivered.

“Stop and think,” Thompson said. “Confirm everything, do your due diligence.”

A lot of scams will push you to take urgent action, so recognition is important, Thompson said, as well as not reacting too impulsively. If you can recognize a scam, then the next step is to reject it.

Finally, Thompson said to report the scam to your local police force or to the Canadian Fraud Centre.

“Reporting is key,” he said. “[If] people aren’t reporting, we don’t know what’s happening and can’t spread the word.”