The COVID-19 pandemic has brought out the best in people trying to help fight the spread of the virus and the fear attached to it. Unfortunately this crisis has also brought out fraudsters, including hackers and scammers, who are trying to take advantage of us during this unsettled time.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has reported an increase in reports of email and text message fraud attempts since the beginning of the COVID–19 public health emergency.1 Tammy McKinnon, Head of the Financial Crimes and Fraud Management Group at TD Bank says, “With many people feeling uneasy about the COVID–19 pandemic, fraudsters are taking advantage of the situation. It is more important than ever before, that we remain vigilant in the fight against fraud and do everything we can to protect ourselves from falling victim to scams.”
She also notes that a recent TD survey revealed that the majority (61%) of Canadian respondents found a strong link between social isolation and vulnerability to fraud, as those who are socially isolated may not have anyone to act as a sounding board if they encounter a fraudster.
How fraud and scams work
While scams can be presented in a wide variety of ways, fraudsters generally try to solicit personal information such as your bank account number or PIN or impersonate family members in a crisis to get money. They may even try to sell you bogus products and services. These can include fake government emergency relief messages, the sale of fake masks, test kits and high-demand consumer goods. Like most scams, these are commonly conducted via text and email (phishing) or over the phone — all for the purpose of stealing personal information and banking credentials.
How to help protect yourself against fraud and scams
Fraudsters don’t discriminate at the best of times, but periods of volatility and uncertainty can make it easier for us to fall victim to fraud. The RCMP and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre have put together a list of scams related to the ongoing health crisis. All Canadians should be on the lookout for potential scams including phishing, malware, and other malicious email campaigns. McKinnon reminds people to remember the old adage — if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Here are some tips to help you and your loved ones avoid falling victim to fraud:
- Do not click on links or visit websites that you don’t recognize.
- Never give out your personal or banking information. Remember financial institutions and government agencies will never ask you to disclose sensitive or confidential banking or credit card information.
- Monitor official sources. If you are searching for information and updates on COVID–19, please visit official government sites like the Government of Canada or the World Health Organization for timely and relevant updates. Only visit news organizations that you know and trust.
- Pay attention to your fraud alerts. Many banks use text messages to communicate with their customers. By signing up for services, you’ll receive text messages that will alert you if suspicious activity is detected on your personal banking account. It’s an easy and free way to help avoid falling victim to financial fraud.
- Check your statements, online accounts and banking apps. Regularly checking your account transactions is an easy way to identify any potentially fraudulent transactions. Money management apps can also help you in the fight against fraud with real-time notifications of spending transactions, making it easy to spot suspicious charges.
- Protect your PIN. Part of your responsibility as a credit and debit cardholder is protecting your PIN. No one — not even your bank — should know your PIN. It’s important to make sure you don’t ever give it out, whether in person, over the phone, online or by mail.
- Have conversations with family and friends. Seniors are becoming more frequent targets of scams, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. Help protect your family members by talking about common scams that often target elderly Canadians.
- If you fall victim to fraud, report it. It’s imperative for those who have lost money to fraudsters to report it to the police, and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. And share your story — your experience may help someone else avoid the same trap.
- COVID-19 Update, Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, accessed April 23, 2020, www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca/index-eng.htm ↩