Coronavirus cons: How scammers are using COVID-19 fears to target Canadians
TORONTO -- Innovative scammers are using the coronavirus pandemic to come up with new ways to cheat Canadians out of their money and personal information.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has seen the spread of new scam techniques, capitalizing on prevailing fears and anxieties about the disease to dupe victims.
Carmi Levy, director of the London, Ont., based Info-Tech Research Group, told CTV’s Your Morning show Thursday about ways Canadians can protect themselves.
“They’re taking advantage of the fact that we’re all looking for something, we all want this to be over and we’re more likely to respond when we see something that appeals to that inner humanity,” Levy said.
“The first thing we have to do is simply resist the urge to respond to everything. If you don’t answer that email or don’t get back on that message or don’t click on that button or link, the world will not end.”
In a new coronavirus twist on the traditional ‘arrest warrant’ scam, Levy said fraudsters may use wording like ‘we saw you outside, you should be in quarantine, if we see you outside again there will be an arrest warrant issued for you.’
Other scammers may advertise what appear to be government programs or fake charity appeals to extract money from unsuspecting Canadians.
Scam sites selling cleaning products offering to ‘super-clean your house or office’ have also emerged during the pandemic.
“Clicking on the link will take you to a scam website and that’s where the hack begins,” Levy explained.
He recommends against responding to suspicious messages on a smartphone or tablet.
“Wait until you get back to your desktop or laptop computer, then you can use your mouse to hover over that link or button,” he said.
“Don’t click on it, it will pop-up what exactly that link is. Note it and if you’re working… report it to the helpdesk. Delete the message, report it as spam. Do not respond to it, because the instant you respond that’s when they get you.”
Levy advised, to avoid misinformation, people should know who the legitimate authorities are.
“There’s lots going around on social media, sometimes it’s hard to tell the legit from the not legit,” he said.
“You know Health Canada, CDC (Centers for Disease Control), WHO (World Health Organization), go to legitimate sources. Just because you saw it on the internet doesn’t mean it is in fact true. Resist the urge to share it, resist the urge to send it along.”
Health-care sector warned
Not even those on the front lines of the fight to stop COVID-19 are immune to scam attempts.
The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security issued an alert Thursday warning that the pandemic "presents an elevated level of risk to the cyber security of Canadian health organizations involved in the national response to the pandemic."
The organization suggested that hackers might attempt to infect these organizations' computers with ransomware or other malware, and could also try to steal sensitive data around Canada's response to the virus.
"The Cyber Centre recommends that Canadian health organizations remain vigilant and take the time to ensure that they are engaged in cyber defence best practices," the alert reads.
Better Business Bureau
Non-profit organization the Better Business Bureau also issued a warning Thursday to be vigilant and provided tips to avoid “fake cures, phony prevention measures and other coronavirus cons.”
It highlighted fraudulent health product claims that promise miracle cures to the coronavirus and added that it has received “numerous reports about scam websites claiming to sell face masks online.”
“The best way to avoid getting scammed is to buy them directly from a seller you know and trust,” BBB said in a press release.
“Be sure the online store has working contact information. Before offering up your name, address, and credit card information, make sure the company is legitimate. Look for a real street address and a working customer service number.”
Canadian Anti-Fraud Agency
Last week, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre tweeted a list of ways to avoid coronavirus related scams.
“Fraudsters are creative and want to profit from consumers’ fears, uncertainties and misinformation,” the CAFC said in a news release issued Friday.
Among its tips was a caution about private companies offering COVID-19 tests, which are currently only available at hospitals, according to the CAFC.
Fraudsters going door-to-door offering decontamination services should also be avoided.
Public Health Agency of Canada
This week, Texas-based cybersecurity firm SpyCloud discovered that a hacker had created a fake website masquerading as a Public Health Agency of Canada web page.
“They even went so far as to create a fake CAPTCHA to make the site feel legitimate and put victims at ease,” the company said in an email to CTVNews.ca, referring to the picture test many websites use to distinguish human users from bots.
“When a victim completes the CAPTCHA, the website invites them to download a letter from a ‘medical officer of health’ on COVID-19.”
Early this month, CTVNews.ca reported on online scammers posing as World Health Organization officials to capitalize on the novel coronavirus outbreak to target individuals and organizations with phishing scams.
In Edmonton, utility company EPCOR is telling customers to be cautious of a new phone scam during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The company is being told customers are receiving calls during which a scammer says the account holder is in arrears and must pay immediately or power will be disconnected. The utility company provides consumer tips to avoid scams on its website.
In February, The Canadian Press reported on criminal groups exploiting fears over the coronavirus outbreak in an email phishing campaign directed at the global shipping industry.
According to a report issued by a California-based cybersecurity firm Proofpoint, the campaign used emails with bogus Microsoft Word attachments designed to install a type of malware known as AZORult.
AZORult has been around since at least 2016 and can be used to install ransomware, which is designed to lock legitimate users out of their computer systems until a ransom is paid.
And in January, CTV News Vancouver reported a warning from the Better Business Bureau advising people to be wary of possible rescale scams amid a shortage of surgical masks.