Scams During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Scams During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Written by Priyanka Correia
Fact-checked by Caitlin Wood
Last Updated May 3, 2021

As COVID-19 continues to spread fear and apprehension among the public, fraudsters have been taking advantage of its presence. The global pandemic has caused a ripple of not just fear but misinformation and panic. These emotions are qualities fraudsters look for when trying to scam individuals. So, it’s no wonder that the Government of Canada and different media outlets have been reporting an increase in phishing and online scams in relation to COVID-19.

How Are Scammers Taking Advantage? 

According to a Psychology research study (The psychology of scams: Provoking and committing errors of judgement), visceral triggers, feelings of urgency, and response to authority are some of the main psychological factors fraudsters use to scam their victims. Looking at our current situation, the rise of COVID-19 has caused stress, anxiety, and fear in the vast majority of Canadians due to an increase in COVID-19 related unemployment and death/illness. 

Scammers use these emotions to manipulate consumers into giving them their personal or financial information. For example, according to the government of Canada, scammers have been taking advantage of people’s goodwill by masquerading as the government and asking Canadians to donate to further the research on COVID-19. Due to the innocence of the scam and the fact that it’s coming from an “authoritative” source, many wouldn’t question its legitimacy.  

Moreover, the internet makes it easier for scammers to take advantage of your distressed state. With the scarcity of hand sanitizers and other safety products, many scammers create ads and fake websites that sell these products. Often they will advertise it as having extremely low quantities so that you make a purchase before it runs out. This false sense of urgency and scarcity of products is what makes these COVID-19 scams dangerous and easy to fall prey to. 

Types Of COVID19 Scams

According to the Government of Canada, there are many different types of scams that have been reported. However, do be aware that there may be more types that are circulating but have not been reported. 

The doormen scam: these scammers go door-to-door selling decontamination services for COVID-19. 

The sanitization scam: these scammers may contact you via email, phone or in-person to “sell” you on duct cleaning and air filtering services to protect you from COVID-19. 

The charity scam: As previously mentioned, these scammers play on your goodwill to collect money for COVID-19 research or victims. Some scammers use the scarcity of safety products as a way to get you to donate by saying they will give you a complimentary safety product if you donate. 

The CDC or WHO scam: some scammers will pose as a representative of the World Health Organization or the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and try to sell you a list of people with COIVD-19 in your area. They hope your fear of catching the virus is high enough for you to purchase anything that can help you from being infected. 

The non-payment scam: these scammers will pose as your local hydro or electrical company and will accuse you of missing a payment.  If you try to deny their claim, they will threaten to cut your power if you don’t pay upfront. 

The Government of Canada scam: these scammers will send out emails posed as the government, in an attempt to gather personal information. They may even place attachments that will allow them to install malicious spyware that can steal your personal information. 

The Public Health Agency of Canada scam: these scammers have been using the COVID-19 test to scare people into paying them. They will call, text or email you saying your result for the COVID-19 test is positive, after which they will ask you to re-confirm your health card and credit card number for a prescription. 

The safety product scam: Many scammers will have fake websites and ads on safety products. They are designed to play on your fears and the scarcity of safety products. They hope in your apprehensive state, you will jump at the chance of purchasing hand sanitizer or any other safety product. Once you place an order, they will have access to your credit card information.

While these aren’t all the scams out there, it is some of the most common scams you should be looking out for. You should also be aware of fake sites portraying fake information. According to the University of Manitoba, these sites often have malicious links and attachments that can steal your information. 

How Can You Protect Yourself?

One of the easiest and most effective ways of protecting yourself from scams is keeping yourself informed about COVID-19 from reliable sources like the Government of Canada. In general, you can avoid being scammed by doing the following when you get an unsolicited email, call or text.

Question Their Motives

If the person is asking for your personal or financial information, block him. In general, never give out your personal information to anyone you did not expect to hear from. Moreover, if the person is trying to sell you something that is questionable like herbal remedies, cures, or vaccines for COVID-19 do not buy it. It is known that there is currently no cure or vaccine available. 

Don’t Trust Your Caller ID

These days it’s easy for scammers to spoof their number to look like it comes from the government or some other authoritative source. When this happens remember to question their motive, if you did not expect the call or they are trying to get personal or financial information, hang up. Similarly, if you get an unexpected email from the “government” asking for donations, delete their message and do not click on any links or attachments.

Do An Online Search

Ask to call back later. Scammers will often create a false sense of urgency to get you to act fast so that you don’t have time to think. But taking even 15 minutes will give you the time you need to legitimize your caller’s claim. For example, if you get a call from “Red Cross” asking for donations for COVID-19 victims, you can confirm their legitimacy by googling keywords like “COVID-19 Red Cross Scam” to see if anyone has posted about receiving unsolicited emails, texts or calls from “Red Cross”. You can also verify the legitimacy of the caller or sender by directly contacting the source they claim to be. 

Click here to learn about how to avoid loan scams.

Report a Scam 

If you have been scammed or were a target of a scammer, please report the activity to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, so that they may warn Canadians. Your actions will help future Canadians from being scammed during these tough economical times. Please call 1-888-495-8501 or go online to submit your report. 

Bottom Line

At the end of the day, being aware of the information on COVID-19 is the best way you can protect yourself from COVID-19 scammers. Be careful of anyone trying to see you miracle cures, vaccines or herbal remedies. Despite the chaos that surrounds you, take things in stride and always be wary of anyone trying to gain access to your personal or financial information. 

Rating of 5/5 based on 3 votes.

Priyanka Correia is a Marketing Coordinator and personal finance expert at Loans Canada. Priyanka completed her Bachelor's degree in Marketing at Concordia University and has published work that has been mentioned in various news media. She is passionate about money management and educating Canadian consumers about how to take control of their financial lives.

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