The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has received over 100 recent scam complaints linked to COVID-19, in an April 2, 2020 story. (File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Fake test kits and other COVID online scams play on public anxiety: fraud centre

Vancouver has seen a spike in commercial property crimes, with offices and stores empty because of COVID-19

The new coronavirus has spawned an increase in online and telephone crime, targeting anxious Canadians who are self-isolating at home in front of their computers, experts say.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has received over 100 recent complaints linked to COVID-19, said Jeff Thomson, a senior RCMP analyst.

The list includes false ads for face masks, hand sanitizers or virus home test kits, charity fraud, extortion and so-called phishing scams, where fake emails are sent out from what appears to be a reputable agency.

“The Public Health Agency of Canada, World Health Organization, federal agencies, Canadian government, you name it, they’re mimicking anybody and everybody that is an authority on this matter,” said Thomson.

Crime that plays on public fear isn’t uncommon, he said, noting American law enforcement agencies started stand-alone charity fraud units after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

READ MORE: RCMP, prime minister warn of text scam related to COVID-19 relief

Toronto police charged a man with fraud last week after it was tipped by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security about an intercepted parcel, alleging it contained 25 COVID-19 test kits.

Health related products need to be registered with Health Canada and there are no approved home test kits, Thomson said.

“Just like there is no approved vaccines or herbal remedies or miracles cures, you know. You really need to go to your source to get this information. In Canada’s case, it’s the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada.”

The Better Business Bureau has warned that social isolation may make people more likely to be a victim of crime.

Shawna-Kay Thomas of the Better Business Bureau in southern Alberta and east Kootenay said criminals have been imitating legitimate organizations during the pandemic.

In Alberta, they’re posing as health workers calling to tell people they’ve tested positive for COVID-19 and asking for credit card information, she said.

In some cases, Thomas said people who have been to their doctor or had recent blood work may be tempted to call.

The usual cautions apply, don’t answer a phone number you don’t know, don’t click on an attachment and research where you’re buying goods.

Tamara Humphrey, an assistant professor in the department of sociology at the University of Victoria, said strong leadership can help prevent people from falling for scams.

The daily updates from public health officials and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ensure people get the right information about wearing masks or if they should be tested, she said.

“What we need to be feeling is that our safety is being looked after by the government and the people in charge are people that we can trust.”

There’s been no indication the general crime rate has gone up.

READ MORE: Victoria police warns of text, vacation rental COVID-19 fraud attempts

Halifax police say its average number of calls hasn’t change, although it has received about 160 calls related to the COVID-19 outbreak since a state of emergency was declared, mostly related to physical distancing.

The Toronto Police Service says there’s been a decline in major crime categories since March 16, with the exception of homicides.

Vancouver police reported a 10 per cent drop in most crime as the pandemic restrictions ramped up. There was a spike in commercial property crimes, with offices and stores empty because of COVID-19.

Many retail and commercial operations have since placed plywood across their windows and doors.

Victoria police also reported a spike in break and enters in vacant downtown businesses.

Terri Theodore , The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Vancouver Giants to stream 2007 Memorial Cup championship game Saturday night

Giants versus Medicine Hat Tigers can be viewed on YouTube at 7 p.m.

Fraser Valley Regional Library branches offer curbside pick up

After two and a half months of being closed, people can once again check books out of the library

Nearly 6,200 Langley students set to return to school June 1

School district shared COVID-19 update during board meeting

Award-winning gospel singer Carolyn Arends releases COVID-inspired song

‘After This’ blends footage of Arends performance with video of residents and empty Langley streets

Langley Environmental Partners Society gives greens to seniors

With help from the Good Food Access Fund, LEPS is distributing veggies and gardening kits

11 new COVID-19 cases in B.C. as top doc urges caution amid ‘encouraging’ low rates

Dr. Bonnie Henry also announced that two care home outbreaks would be declared over

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

Thanks for helping the Aldergrove Star to continue its mission to provide trusted local news

Dr. Bonnie Henry announces official ban on overnight kids’ camps this summer

New ban comes after talking with other provincial health officials across the country, Henry says

Senior man in hospital after unprovoked wolf attack near Prince Rupert

Conservation officers are on site looking for the wolf

VIDEO: NASA astronauts blast off into space on SpaceX rocket

Marks NASA’s first human spaceflight launched from U.S. soil in nearly a decade

‘I knew what he wanted’: Kootenay man spends hours in tree as black bear patrols below

Francis Levasseur is no stranger to the outdoors, but a recent run-in with a bear caused quite a scare

B.C.’s police watchdog probing death of Richmond man in alleged shoplifting incident

Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is asking any witnesses to come forward

PHOTOS: U.S. cities brace for increasing unrest over police killing of George Floyd

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has fully mobilized the state’s National Guard

$200,000 Maybach impounded after ‘L’ driver caught excessively speeding in Vancouver

Meanwhile, the supervisor sat in the passenger seat, police said

Most Read