Beware of fraudsters taking advantage of pandemic

Criminals are taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic panic to peddle a new line of frauds and cons.

The OPP and other law-enforcement agencies warn that COVID-19 frauds are now appearing through emails, by phone, and sometimes even with a stranger calling at a home to offer “help” safeguarding residents against infection by COVID-19 or with protecting their property and finances in case of future difficulties.

“People need to be aware and not let their guard down when it comes to scams,” states an OPP notice. “Fraudsters are attempting to take advantage of these times and are attempting to profit from consumer fear, uncertainty and misinformation.”

Some of the cons are revisions of traditional fraud routines but with a COVID-19 theme instead. What they all have in common is reliance on the potential victim being too scared to take time to think about whether an offer or proposal is legitimate or not.

The cons

The new line of COVID-19 cons include email or phone notices about phony government, healthcare or research information accounts, which either offer help with getting financial aid during the pandemic, or with providing health care insurance protection, or other offers of assistance.

Some cons involve medical advice or products to protect against COVID-19 or to cure it. This type of fraud includes suspect offers for “test” programs or devices that are supposed to work faster than the ones doctors and hospitals use.

There are emails, phone calls, and online ads to promote websites that offer “superior” and “cheap” cleaning products and hand sanitizers. These offers often prove fake.

Some fraudsters claim to represent charities asking for money to help fund research or supply products to those in need.

Fraudsters may also claim to represent various government, non-profit, or service agencies like the Red Cross, the U.S. Centre for Disease Control, Health Canada, and various other agencies and groups. Some pose as cleaning or heating company staff offering duct cleaning service or new air filters for a home to protect against “infection” by the COVID-19 virus. They may also claim to be with Hydro One or some other utility outfit which is threatening to cut off the electricity or natural gas service, or threaten legal action if an alleged outstanding bill is not paid.

One thing all these fraudsters have in common is they will ask for money up front, most often by wire transfer, which may be difficult to trace once the money is collected. A few fraudsters are demanding payment in bitcoin or some other cryptocurrency, which is untraceable.

Police remind residents that “legitimate agencies will never pressure you for information over the phone or demand money immediately” but the con artist always will.

The Canadian Anti Fraud Centre has more information on COVID-19 frauds at https://antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca/features-vedette/2020/covid-19-eng.htm.

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