The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has received over 100 recent scam complaints linked to COVID-19, in an April 2, 2020 story. (File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Fake test kits and other COVID online scams play on public anxiety: fraud centre

Vancouver has seen a spike in commercial property crimes, with offices and stores empty because of COVID-19

The new coronavirus has spawned an increase in online and telephone crime, targeting anxious Canadians who are self-isolating at home in front of their computers, experts say.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has received over 100 recent complaints linked to COVID-19, said Jeff Thomson, a senior RCMP analyst.

The list includes false ads for face masks, hand sanitizers or virus home test kits, charity fraud, extortion and so-called phishing scams, where fake emails are sent out from what appears to be a reputable agency.

“The Public Health Agency of Canada, World Health Organization, federal agencies, Canadian government, you name it, they’re mimicking anybody and everybody that is an authority on this matter,” said Thomson.

Crime that plays on public fear isn’t uncommon, he said, noting American law enforcement agencies started stand-alone charity fraud units after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

READ MORE: RCMP, prime minister warn of text scam related to COVID-19 relief

Toronto police charged a man with fraud last week after it was tipped by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security about an intercepted parcel, alleging it contained 25 COVID-19 test kits.

Health related products need to be registered with Health Canada and there are no approved home test kits, Thomson said.

“Just like there is no approved vaccines or herbal remedies or miracles cures, you know. You really need to go to your source to get this information. In Canada’s case, it’s the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada.”

The Better Business Bureau has warned that social isolation may make people more likely to be a victim of crime.

Shawna-Kay Thomas of the Better Business Bureau in southern Alberta and east Kootenay said criminals have been imitating legitimate organizations during the pandemic.

In Alberta, they’re posing as health workers calling to tell people they’ve tested positive for COVID-19 and asking for credit card information, she said.

In some cases, Thomas said people who have been to their doctor or had recent blood work may be tempted to call.

The usual cautions apply, don’t answer a phone number you don’t know, don’t click on an attachment and research where you’re buying goods.

Tamara Humphrey, an assistant professor in the department of sociology at the University of Victoria, said strong leadership can help prevent people from falling for scams.

The daily updates from public health officials and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ensure people get the right information about wearing masks or if they should be tested, she said.

“What we need to be feeling is that our safety is being looked after by the government and the people in charge are people that we can trust.”

There’s been no indication the general crime rate has gone up.

READ MORE: Victoria police warns of text, vacation rental COVID-19 fraud attempts

Halifax police say its average number of calls hasn’t change, although it has received about 160 calls related to the COVID-19 outbreak since a state of emergency was declared, mostly related to physical distancing.

The Toronto Police Service says there’s been a decline in major crime categories since March 16, with the exception of homicides.

Vancouver police reported a 10 per cent drop in most crime as the pandemic restrictions ramped up. There was a spike in commercial property crimes, with offices and stores empty because of COVID-19.

Many retail and commercial operations have since placed plywood across their windows and doors.

Victoria police also reported a spike in break and enters in vacant downtown businesses.

Terri Theodore , The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Going above and beyond the call of duty

“She does it out of the goodness of her heart … she loves seeing the results.”

Tourism Wells Gray looks at silver linings

Domestic tourism and pipeline workers may compensate for some of the lost tourism dollars this year

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

B.C. records no new COVID-19 deaths for the first time in weeks

Good news comes despite 11 new test-positive cases in B.C. in the past 24 hours

BC Corrections to expand list of eligible offenders for early release during pandemic

Non-violent offenders are being considered for early release through risk assessment process

Fraser Valley driver featured on ‘Highway Thru Hell’ TV show dies

Monkhouse died Sunday night of a heartattack, Jamie Davis towing confirmed

B.C. visitor centres get help with COVID-19 prevention measures

Destination B.C. gearing up for local, in-province tourism

36 soldiers test positive for COVID-19 after working in Ontario, Quebec care homes

Nearly 1,700 military members are working in long-term care homes overwhelmed by COVID-19

B.C. poison control sees spike in adults, children accidentally ingesting hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer sales and usage have gone up sharply amid COVID-19 pandemic

B.C. man with Alberta plates gets car keyed and aggressive note

Some out-of-province people are finding hostile reception due to COVID-19 worries

Most Read