6 fraud prevention tips to stay safe during the pandemic

It’s Fraud Prevention Month — and perhaps this year it’s more important than ever to stay on top of the latest scams. Since the start of the pandemic, fraud, online scams and cyber breaches have soared, as our lives move into the digital realm and fraudsters prey on people’s fears and vulnerabilities.

From cryptocurrency to vaccine and online job scams, here’s how to spot — and avoid — different types of fraud. Review these fraud prevention tips and stay protected.

1. COVID-19 scams

One of the most prevalent scams over the past year—and one that’s easy to fall victim to—is coronavirus-themed emails and text messages. These are sent by fraudsters, trying to trick you into installing malicious COVID-19 notification apps, opening malicious attachments or revealing personal financial information.

Fraud prevention tips

For example, you might receive unsolicited calls from so-called charities requesting money for victims, products or research, or from ‘private companies’ offering COVID-19 testing kits for an up-front fee. Now, as vaccination efforts start to ramp up, there are new scams related to counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) is warning Canadians not to buy these so-called vaccines online or from unauthorized sources: “The only way to access safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines is through clinics organized or endorsed by your local public health authority in collaboration with Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial governments.”

Never give money or financial information to an unverified source, and don’t use the toll-free number, email address or website provided in a suspect email (it will lead you straight to the fraudsters). And if something sounds too good to be true—like a vaccine couriered straight to your home—then it probably is. This is one of the most important fraud prevention tips to remember.

COVID-19 scams

2. Bitcoin and cryptocurrency scams

These scams pre-date the pandemic, but COVID-19 has provided new opportunities for fraudsters to prey on people’s vulnerabilities. Indeed, the Better Business Bureau issued a warning after seeing a rise in cryptocurrency scams during the pandemic. It received 914,000 related complaints during the first six months of 2020, with victims losing an average of $3,617.

Bitcoin fraud prevention tips

A cryptocurrency investment scam might promise a high return on your investment when you deposit your money into a so-called trading platform. But once you’ve deposited your money, you can never cash out. There’s little regulatory oversight of cryptocurrency, and it’s not backed by the banks or federal government, which means it’s not insured.

Also read: Stop fake SIM swaps: Prevent and recover from smartphone fraud

3. Job scams

The pandemic has also given rise to online job scams, particularly with young adults who are less suspicious of being approached online with a job offer. Often, the fraudster approaches you through social media (such as Instagram) or an unsolicited text message, claiming they received your resume through a job posting website.

The fraudsters might ask for personal details or financial information. They might even send advance ‘payment’ via a cheque, e-transfer, money transfer or other digital means. But after you deposit the money, you get a call from your bank, saying the cheque was counterfeit. So, if you’ve already spent the money, then you will owe the money back to your bank.

Fortunately, there are plenty of red flags.

First off, a legitimate employer will never send money in advance of starting a job. If the ‘employer’ sends a contract to sign with a cheque, it’s most likely bogus. Never accept a cheque or e-transfer from someone you don’t know, especially if it’s coming from a different company than the one you’re supposedly now working for. There’s no such thing as easy money, so if it seems too easy, that’s a red flag.

4. Spoofed government services

The pandemic has caused economic uncertainty, job loss and financial hardship for many Canadians. And fraudsters are profiting from this. Government service scams range from so-called third-party companies offering to help you fill out applications for financial assistance, or criminals spoofing government or healthcare websites to steal your credentials and sign-up for financial assistance to receive payments in your name.

Mail fraud prevention tips

You might also receive unsolicited calls, emails or texts requesting urgent action or payment for government services—which is especially prevalent during tax time. Meanwhile, fraudsters are once again sending ‘refund’ text messages, enticing you to click on a link.

Remember, the CRA never sends text messages and would never text a refund.

5. Wire transfer fraud

Wire transfer fraud, which sometimes involves cryptocurrency, tricks or coerces you into transferring money to an account owned by the fraudster. You might be asked to wire money into a bank account for a product or service, rather than send a cheque—which may seem legitimate during the pandemic. Other scams try to scare you into depositing money to clear your name for an alleged crime, such as money laundering.

Never give out personal or financial information—or send money—to someone you don’t know, especially if they claim to have recently changed their banking information.

Pay attention to correspondence: Does the email address match the original? If the fraudster is using scare tactics, remember that a government or police official would never ask you to send money to a foreign account. If they’re threatening you, hang up and call the real authorities.

6. Romance scams

Romance scams are huge in the fraud world. In fact, they’re one of the top 10 frauds in Canada, according to CAFC, with reported losses of $18.5 million in 2020. While these scams aren’t new, the isolation of a global pandemic has made some people much more vulnerable to the promise of love and companionship.

Romance scams

Typically, the victim meets a romantic prospect (aka the fraudster) through a social media or dating site, who often claims to live in a different city or country. At some point, the fraudster asks for money (to visit them, or for a family emergency). Once the victim wires the money, their romantic prospect—and their money—are both gone.

If someone you’ve never met in person professes their love for you and then asks for money, that’s a major red flag.

By being aware of the latest scams and fraud prevention tips, you’ll be in a better position to outwit the fraudsters. But if you think you might have been scammed, don’t be afraid to speak up and report it.

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More fraud prevention tips: 17 Tips to Protect Your Account From Online Fraud

Whether snared in an email, on a website, within an online form or ambushed in money transfers, even the savviest and most aware people can become victims of clever scammers.

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About Vawn Himmelsbach

Vawn Himmelsbach is a freelance writer and editor. She has covered technology and travel for 15 years, for media outlets such as CBCNews.ca, The Globe & Mail, Metro News, ITBusiness, PCworld Canada and Computerworld Canada. She also spent three years living abroad and working as an Asian correspondent.

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