TORONTO -- Private investigators are reporting a rise in fraud as scammers are apparently taking advantage of desperate and vulnerable Canadians during the pandemic.

Adrienne Fekete, owner of Star Quality Private Investigations in Toronto, said her firm has seen a more-than-600-per-cent increase in fraud-related cases in the last year, including romance scams, corporate scams, fake vaccine vendors, identity theft and credit card scams, to name a few.

Whenever any kind of fraud takes place or is born, it typically comes from a place of vulnerability. Everybody in this world right now, regardless of race, age, social status, whether they're quarantining by themselves or with family, they're vulnerable. and fraudsters know that,” Fekete told in an interview.

Fekete said her firm has dealt with cases involving $80,000 romance scams and cases where fraudsters want $150 to book a fake vaccine appointment.

While Fekete has seen a big boom in business, she adds that she may only be seeing a fraction of the true cost of fraud to Canadians, as many people might be too embarrassed or ashamed to reach out for help. Others, meanwhile, may not have the means to seek out the services of a private investigator, especially if they’ve already been scammed out of large sums of money.

“I can only imagine what else is going on in the world,” she said. “I do believe that there is a lot going on out there.”

“From the tiny little bit of snapshot that we see, it is massive.”

According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, $7.25 million was lost to COVID-19 fraud in Canada between March 6 and March 31 alone. During that span, more than 15,000 Canadians were victims of fraud.

“What our investigation has uncovered is that fraud is coming from everywhere in the world,” Feketesaid. “It's not just your neighbours or the people two cities over, but it's from all over the world.”

According to a December report from the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG),phishing attacks have also increased during the pandemic. Worldwide, an estimated 571,764 unique phishing websites were detected from July to September last year.

Kristin Aslan, manager and lead investigator of the Montreal-based VIP Investigations Inc., said that she too has seen a rise in fraud cases during the pandemic. 

“People are lonely,” she said. “They're in front of their computer, they're clicking away. They don't see their families, their friends, so they're trying to reach out to whoever is available out there.”

Aslan added that rise in fraud also comes from desperation on the side of the.

“People are desperate, they want money,” she said. “A lot of people who have been laid off, they're looking for other opportunities, and fraud is an easy way.”

Aslan said itis extremely rare for victims of identity theft frauds to get their money back and that most times, customers will reach out to a private investigator simply to get their identity back. 

When it comes to protecting yourself from fraud, Fekete recommends:

  • paying attention to who you may be buying a product from;
  • understanding that you should never give personal information while on a call with banks or government agencies, as they will already have it if they are legitimate;
  • change online passwords frequently and have different passwords;
  • keep up-to-date on the latest news regarding fraud trends.

I believe that the best way to fight online fraud is really to educate people and individuals,” Fekete said. “Fraudsters go after people that are vulnerable.”