Scammers are taking advantage of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID‑19) pandemic by sending fraudulent emails and making phone calls that attempt to trick you into revealing your personal information or clicking on malicious links or attachments.
The calls and emails may look and sound authentic. In some versions, the email scams may include logos or branding for the World Health Organization or other government or public health agencies. In recent variations of the scam, fraudsters have been trying to trick Canadians into installing malicious COVID‑19 notification apps or calling with offers of fraudulent home vaccination kits for an up‑front fee.
How to spot pandemic-related phishing, text and phone scams
Phishing text, email and phone call scams are attempts to trick you into volunteering personal information to criminals, including your credit card information. Email and text scams can also attempt to trick you into installing malware on your computer or mobile device. There are simple steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim of a pandemic-related scam:
- Be skeptical. Fraudulent emails and texts can look like they come from a real organization. If you have any doubts about a text or email purporting to contain health information or requesting donations for Canadians affected by COVID‑19, don’t use the toll‑free number, e‑mail address or website address provided because they may link you to the fraudsters. Instead, use contact information that you know is correct. Up‑to‑date information about COVID‑19 can be found on the Public Health Agency of Canada website or on your provincial health agency website.
- Also be wary of online ads for cheap or scarce items like personal protective equipment and cleaning products. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it very likely is. Learn more about spotting fake websites and online apps.
- Be cautious. Never send personal and/or financial information by email or text or volunteer information over the phone if the call seems suspicious. If you didn’t make the call, then you’re not able to verify who is on the line requesting information. Hang up and use a phone number you know is correct. Be especially wary of unsolicited phone calls offering COVID‑19 tests or vaccines. Only official health care providers can perform tests and the only way to access safe and effective COVID‑19 vaccines is through clinics organized or endorsed by local public health authorities in collaboration with Canada's federal, provincial and territorial governments.
- Don’t respond. If you are not comfortable with the questions you are being asked over the phone, do not respond and tell the caller you are end the call to verify it is legitimate from an independent source. No reputable organization will take issue with that. Then call the organization back on a phone number you have looked up yourself. If you think you have provided some of your banking or credit card information to a fraudster, contact your bank or financial institution immediately and they will advise you on what you should do.
- Never click on suspicious links or attachments. Phishing emails and texts often include embedded links that look valid, but if you hover over them, you can usually see the real hyperlink. If the hyperlinked address isn’t the same as what appears in the email, it’s probably a phishing attempt. Does the email include an attachment that you weren’t expecting? Never open suspicious attachments.
- Protect your devices. As always, make sure that your home computer is protected. Install anti-spam, anti‑spyware and anti‑virus software and make sure they are always up to date.
If you receive a phishing email or text, there are two things you should do: report it and delete it. Reporting a fraudulent email or text to the organization being spoofed can help prevent other people from being victimized. To report a fraudulent communications, be sure to send the email or text as an attachment.
More tips on how to avoid text-based pandemic fraud
Criminals send fraudulent texts to try to trick you into clicking on links or providing personal or financial information. There have been reports of text-based scams related to government benefits and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has also received reports of phishing text messages that claim to come from the Government of Canada with promises of money from a "Vaccine Relief Fund".
Banks and government agencies never send emails, texts or call you asking for personal information or account details, and the Canada Revenue Agency will not advise you of your benefits by text or email if you have not applied for emergency government benefits such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.
The Canadian Anti‑Fraud Centre has compiled a list of the reported scams exploiting COVID‑19.
The government of Canada has information for Canadians about COVID‑19, including a toll‑free phone number and email address here:
The COVID Alert application is the Government of Canada’s app for mobile devices to help notify Canadians of potential COVID‑19 exposure.
Interac has published a video interview exploring the relationship between Canadians’ heightened anxiety from the COVID‑19 pandemic and their potential susceptibility to fraud. You can find the video with psychologist Dr. Christine Purdon on what you should do if you’ve been targeted by scammers online here.
Visit the CBA website and follow @Cdnbankers on Twitter for more fraud prevention tips.